6 March 2018

Kenya: City Residents at Risk as Food Testing Labs Lack Chemicals

Food in Nairobi has been going uninspected for months because the county lacks capacity to conduct the randomised testing necessary to maintain food safety standards, the Daily Nation can report.

The city's Executive Committee member in charge of health, Mr Hitan Majevda, said Monday that the six laboratories meant to conduct the tests have been out of commission due to lack of appropriate chemicals.

"When I took over this office (in November), nothing was being done in the labs. They were run down and lacked basic equipment and reagents," said Mr Majevda.

"We are now, however, restocking the agents and will resume testing soon."

He added that food sellers found to be in violation of safety regulations will have their establishments closed down.

He was responding to questions raised by this newspaper following investigations that revealed a high level of contaminants present in food.

FOOD TESTING

Food testing is part of the surveillance function that the county is supposed to undertake to ensure that food is safe for consumption.

It is meant to catch unscrupulous traders who lace food with harmful chemicals or those who flout basic hygiene and cleanliness standards.

Lack of testing also raises questions about how the county has issued permits to food establishments without the necessary food safety conditions being guaranteed.

Without random testing, it is impossible to identify unsafe foods, exposing Kenyans to a cocktail of disease causing organisms and toxic chemicals. Contaminated food is the biggest cause of gastroentiritic diseases such as typhoid, botulism, cholera, hepatitis A, listeriosis, norovirus and Staphylococcal Food Poisoning.

According to a recent study, norovirus, which causes diarrhoea and vomiting, is the biggest cause of death in children under five.

And scientists say that large quantities of heavy metals in food, which accumulate in the body due to repeated exposure, cause multiple organ failure, retardation, memory loss and skin discolouration.

Exposure to aflatoxin, contained in mould that grows on food due to improper storage, can lead to cancer. Aflatoxin can also be passed along to meat products if found in animal feeds.

The country's health system is currently struggling under the burden of cancer incidences, with 2014 statistics from the Kenya Economic Survey naming cancer the third biggest killer after malaria and pneumonia.

Meanwhile, Kenyans across the country have raised concerns about the safety of the food that they are eating and are calling on the government to take urgent action.

"Today morning, I called someone in KEMRI to see if I could have aflatoxin level checked in maize flour I bought from Nyamakima, Nairobi, last week. It is a packet of 'unga ya baridi' or 'wa heho,' very fine maize flour, used for cooking porridge. It cannot ferment. Instead it produced a gas that made me feel dizzy. I think it has high levels of aflatoxin," said Prof Grace Irimu, a paedriatic nephrologist and public health specialist at the University of Nairobi.

And Joel Macharia, from Nanyuki, reported that he had seen farmers in the area grow crops using unsafe water.

"Our markets here have a significant supply of fresh sukumawiki and spinach grown in the sewerage collection area which doesn't have treatment equipment besides being in the middle of a residential area. The remainder of the greenish water from the last dam then flows straight into Nanyuki river, posing a danger to users downstream," he said.

Kenya

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