Unsafe Meat Preservative Used by Kenyan Butcheries

Red meat is the most consumed type of meat in the country. Of these, beef is most preferred and is readily available in most of the butcheries in the country. Two third of the people who consume meat in the country buy beef.

Meat consumption is typically very high during the December holiday season and decreases dramatically on January up to the month of April. Nevertheless, meat consumption is on average high during the weekends.

Most consumers rely on the colour of the meat to identify its freshness. Regardless, many butchers will insist on the freshness of their meat. To dispel any doubts on this, some butchers use a certain preservative called Sodium Metabisulphite to give their meat a look of freshness.

However, according to international standards, if meat is fresh it should not be added any preservative.

Use of Sodium Metabisulphite

Sodium metabisulphite is a preservative that is used in various foods under controlled levels that are recognized as safe. A white powdery substance akin to glucose, the chemical makes the product look fresh by preventing discolouration and killing bacteria responsible for food spoilage thus increasing a product’s shelf-life.

Informally, the chemical is referred to as dawa ya nyama due to its use by butcheries as a preservative. It’s said that butchers make use of it mostly during the low selling seasons.

The chemical is typically sprayed on the meat carcass after having been mixed with water. Meat treated this way can for as long as a month while still looking fresh.

Such treatment is however done without minding the concentration levels and it’s this that presents a major risk with regards to its use.

Unregulated Use of Sodium Metabisulphite

beef cuts
Beef Cuts

America’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes the substance as safe however only when used under controlled manufacturing processes. It however restricts its use in meats, vegetables and fruits consumed or sold as raw or fresh and foods that are sources of Vitamin B1.

According to the Nation, test studies done in Nairobi established that meat sold in some butcheries and supermarkets had high amount of these chemical. In the same report, it’s further reported that the substance is also used in preserving githeri (maize and beans delicacy) and beans.

Locally, the use of Sodium metabisulphite in the preservation of meat is prohibited by the ministry of health. The narrative here is however similar to that one of artificial ripening of fruits  where regulation by the ministry of public health is lacking.

More Regulation Needed

This emerging trend of recklessly using uncontrolled chemicals in our foods for financial gain is on the rise. Most of these substances carry with them serious health risks and Sodium Metabisulphite is no exception.

The regulation of these chemical in the country is not clear despite the fact that any food preserved using this chemical should be labelled and regulated.

While the slaughtering at the abattoirs is regulated by the ministry of public health, it would seem beyond this point the safety of such meat is mostly left at the mercy of those running the butcheries.

The ministry has therefore to go beyond the slaughterhouses and inspect how the meat is preserved and sold if at all the safety of meat is to be guaranteed for the consumer.

As it’s the case with most packaged foods, packaged meats (processed meats) are generally well regulated. The biggest challenge is therefore in fresh meats that are sold at butcheries or informally at open markets. As such, part of the responsibility falls on you as a consumer to ensure the meat you buy is safe.

Still, remember to limit consumption of red meat as high consumption is a risk factor for various lifestyle diseases. When buying go for lean red meat (or trim out the fat yourself) but if possible, favour white meat over the red variety.

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