Kampala City public health authorities have arrested meat retailers after a Thursday operation following reports that butchers are using unauthorized preservatives in excessively large amounts to preserve meat for as long as three weeks.
KCCA said they shutdown nine butcheries in Kalerwe and Ntinda for failing to adhere to the minimum health and quality standards. They mix it with water and spray it on the meat to give it a crisp, reddish colour, which makes customers believe that the beef is fresh even if the carcass could have stayed for up to a month.
Laboratory tests carried out independently on meat samples purchased from supermarkets and butcheries in Kampala and surrounding regions have revealed the presence of the preservative, which scientists say is one of the agents that cause cancer.
Dr. Emilian Ahimbisibwe, KCCA’s Supervisor of Animal Production says the shutdown will continues until the standards are met.
“Today we (KCCA) inspected more than 30 butcheries, arrested two meat sellers and closed seven shops which shows that in 2018 we are serious about the quality of meat people buy,” said. Dr. Ahimbisibwe.
“Ninety Nine per cent of the meat on the market is safe so there is no need to be alarmed that meat sellers now use formalin to repel flies from meat as reported in media recently. That one I can confirm, I know how it smells because I used it before in our work.”
According to KCCA, city butcheries should have clean walls, the floors to be tight and also have water for even washing hands after touching the meat or using hands to drive flies away.
“The butcheries should also have a first aid box so that when a meat seller cuts himself, he can quickly bandage the cut. They should have medical tests every six months for TB and other diseases,” he added.
“As you can we have been moving out every week and it is a continuous process. Today we had Uganda National Bureau of Standards on our team.”
There are also reports that grasshopper vendors are applying formalin to keep the nsenene from smelling.
Formalin the silent killer
Formalin is an acqueous solution of the chemical compound Formaldehyde. Basically between 35% and 40% solution of formaldehyde in water make formalin. It is used in the preservation of biological specimen and embalming in order to delay their decomposition. It is popularly used in some Asian countries like Bangladesh to preserve fruits and vegetables and other food items. It is also used illegitimately to preserve frozen fish in countries like India. It is equally used as a disinfectant as it kills most bacteria and fungi. It is also used for drying skin before or after surgical removal of warts or where dryness is required. Also, it is used for treating excessive foot moisture. Formalin is said to be most effective for the treatment of diseased fish and controlling parasites especially in fish ponds, etcetera. A mixture of formalin, methanol, ethanol and other solvents makes the embalming fluid which is used to preserve bodies till funeral.
Research reveals that formalin-contaminated meat will be quite stiff. It will also have a rubbery hard feel and will not have the normal meat smell so have all these in mind when shopping.
If by any chance you suspect you have bought formalin contaminated fruits, vegetables, meat or fish, add a cup of vinegar to three cups of water and spray on the products. Allow to stand for 30 minutes and then wash off thoroughly. For fruits, another option is to immerse all fruits in a container of water for an hour before consumption. This will remove the formalin and have no effect on the taste. Remember to consume fruits treated this way soon, they will not last as long as their formalin-laden counterparts.
Also, one can rinse the food products in salt solution. Ideally, it should be one teaspoon salt for each cup of water. Rinse methodically in plain water afterwards.
Another way to rid fish/meat of formalin is to immerse them in tap water for an hour. By so doing, up to 60% of formalin will be removed but if you add salt to this water, up to 90% of formalin can be removed. A mixture of 90% vinegar and 10% water can completely remove all traces of formalin in 15 minutes but it may also affect the taste.
One of the ways in which formalin contaminated fruits and vegetables can be avoided is by buying local produce and eating only seasonal fruits and vegetables. Imported fruits and vegetables may be exotic and delicious but they are more likely to have pesticides and preservatives.
Though there is no proof that our meat sellers use formalin to repel flies, one still has to be vigilante. So to be on the safe side, avoid buying meat that is hard and stiff. Steer clear of meat that feels rubbery and hard when touched.
Formalin-contaminated meat will not have the usual meat smell. Shop with eyes wide open.
The widespread of formalin in preservation of food products is a major threat to health. It is highly toxic, irrespective of the method of intake. Consumption of as little as 30ml of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde can kill an adult. Studies have shown a correlation between the chemical and leukaemia.