MERCURY
Mercury causes still births and hampers the healthy development of a foetus, as well as causing failure of major body organs such as liver, kidney, skin, heart and nervous system.

Those that live near gold mines, such as residents of Ikolomani in Kakamega County, should insist on safety testing of the water before consuming it, using it to farm or feeding it to animals.

ADDITIVES

Some food additives are also harmful when frequently consumed as they contain chemical compounds.

These include food colourings, flavourings, sweeteners and preservatives.

Food safety is a constitutional right under the Food Drugs and Chemical substances Act (CAP 254).

Citizens have the right to demand and have access to safe and quality food, at all times.

AFLATOXIN

There are many regulatory bodies that have been set up to uphold and support the implementation of food safety as a right for all Kenyans.

Consumers should insist on food certified by the various regulatory bodies such as Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs).

We also need to guard against aflatoxin Thoroughly drying maize before storage prevents fungi growth, which is what leads to aflatoxin.

Discoloured maize, nuts, beans and other grain is a sign of aflatoxin contamination and must be avoided.

TOXIC

Also, if the githeri (a mixture of maize and beans) you cook tastes bitter, spit it and dispose the rest, since this is a sign that the grain is infected.

Contaminated grains must also not be fed to animals as it converts into a more lethal form when we, say, drink the milk from the cow that has fed on the grains.

Even that beloved chocolate could be toxic, more so to factory workers that produce them due to exposure to cadmium, another chemical hazards.

STORAGE

Such workers must demand proper safety gear and regular medical check-ups to ensure that they do not experience overexposure to toxins.

“The way you store food and the way you thaw it before eating it could result to serious illness or even death,” Dr Edewa says.

Microbials or biological contaminants include the microorganisms that mostly favour animal products such as meat, egg, milk, honey, and also fresh vegetables.

All these are the foods we store in our fridges. The act of storing these foods in their raw state together with cooked foods poses a risk to food safety.

“Discipline must be observed when it comes to storing food in the fridge or freezer.

"First, it is crucial to maintain the right temperature of the fridge at all times, and avoid storing raw animal products above vegetables.

"When there is a temperature change, say in the case of power fluctuations, the meats will thaw and drip onto the vegetables, causing contamination.”

FRIDGE
The common practice of overstocking the fridge with both raw and cooked food is not advised.

“You don’t have to store food in the fridge if you can get it in your kitchen garden or the next day and prepare it fresh.”

As a rule of thumb, minimise storage of food in the fridge, and if you can, avoid storing cooked food.

Also, any bad smell from the fridge is a sign that food contamination has occurred and as such, food in that fridge must be discarded.

MICROWAVES
Dr Edewa also cautions on improper use of microwaves, which are repositories of harmful microorganisms.

Most people do not clean their microwaves as frequently and as thoroughly as is required, so when we heat the food in there, all that steam settles as grime and drips back onto the food.

Also, the use of plastic containers to heat food in microwaves is a health hazard.

“Plastics heated in microwave produce cancer causing toxins, which permeate the food.”

OVERCOOK
So how do we stay safe in the midst of so many dos and don’ts in matters of food handling and food safety in general?

“Luckily for us Kenyans, we eat our foods hot and well cooked; in fact, we overcook our food, thus eliminating pathogens, but unfortunately, eliminating the nutrients too.”

That said, there are basic hygiene standards that all food handlers and consumers must observe to minimise risks to food safety.

HAND WASHING

Diseases such as cholera get transmitted because those that handle food do not properly wash their hands before and after handling food and after visiting the toilets.

Particularly sensitive foods are milk, poultry products, fish and ready-to-eat foods such as salads and ice-cream.

At the household level, simple practices such as having separate chopping boards for meat and vegetables should be practiced to minimise food contamination.

INSPECTOR

Also, as a principle, wash your food with clean water before cooking or eating it.

Authorised food inspectors have the right of entry into food handling places like kitchens and food stores in restaurants.

Their main role should not be to intimidate the food handlers or pass punitive measures on food safety, but should rather be advisory.

CONSUMER

Food safety and health inspectors are mandated to ensure that the public is not exposed to contaminated food.

An institution with the goodwill to uphold food safety will actually go out of their way to invite a food safety inspector or advisor to train, advice and sensitise all people in the food chain about food safety.

“Ultimately, food safety is about protecting the consumer,” Dr Edewa says.

BURDEN
During the launch of the book, From Farm to Fork, last week, a simplified resource on food safety, by Rachel Kibui, Dr Henry Rotich, Kenya Bureau of Standards Director, Metrology and Testing, said:

“Ensuring food safety does not only reduce the health burden in our country, it also opens up trade opportunities, thus creating employment and enhancing livelihoods for citizens.”

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