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Food safety agencies must always be alert

Monday November 11 2019

EDITORIAL
By EDITORIAL
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The debate sparked by the closure of five flour processors sue to contamination is not surprising.

What is startling is that more millers have not been sanctioned.

There are many food manufacturers who flout hygiene rules and survive through bribery and manipulation. And the time to act is now.

At the weekend, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) withdrew trading licences from the five millers because their stock contained high quantities of aflatoxin, a dangerous substance.

But this only came after learning that this media house was investigating the quality of maize and flour in the market.

In return, the millers have come out forcefully to defend themselves, faulting Kebs for using shoddy tests to check the quality of their stuff.

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NUTRITIONAL DISASTER

Yet the fact is, independent tests done on samples of maize collected from various brands and across the country reveal high levels of aflatoxin.

Although there are acceptable levels of aflatoxin in maize and other grains, what was found is alarming. They have high levels of aflatoxin, far beyond the acceptable threshold.

Maize meal remains the most popular and widespread menu across the country. When stocks are contaminated, we are faced with a serious public health and nutritional disaster.

Aflatoxin has serious health effects. In the past, the country witnessed a series of deaths arising from consumption of contaminated maize.

Some people ended up contracting lifelong ailments that have defied a cure. Which is the reason all efforts have to be directed towards safe crop storage and intensified checks.

QUALITY CHECKS

Part of the problem is poor crop storage. Post-harvest crop handling is a major cause of adulteration, necessitating proper education for farmers and traders.

But an equally bigger problem is crop imports. Some of the food items brought across the borders never go through quality checks before they land on the table.

And the bureau cannot escape blame for the mess. It is responsible for quality checks and is expected to be on the lookout for breaches.

But there is laxity. Some large-scale traders and manufacturers cut corners and get away with murder.

They import and sell foods of questionable standards with relative ease. The same problem applies to other foods in the market.

PROACTIVE APPROACH

Surveillance and strict enforcement of checks is paramount.

The Kebs and other relevant authorities have to intensify inspection of manufacturing plants and retail outlets to determine the standards.

The blacklisted brands should not be allowed back on the shelves until they satisfy the standards. But we need a proactive approach.

Authorities should not wait for media exposes to respond to such threats. Consumers must be protected at all times.

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