- Most recently, two people died of cholera after eating food at a wedding ceremony in Karen.
- According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO) over 80 per cent of all illnesses are food-related.
In March this year, 68 students from Nkubu High School fell ill and were rushed to hospital. Diagnosis? Food poisoning.
In another institution, an 11-year-old primary school pupil died on her way to hospital after spending days in bed, sick, in her school dormitory.
Though the school was scanty with the details surrounding the girl’s illness, the parents claim that she suffered acute food poisoning and only died because she did not receive immediate medical care.
In 2015, about 150 students and staff from Strathmore University were taken ill and treated for food poisoning following a dinner at the institution.
Most recently, two people died of cholera after eating food at a wedding ceremony in Karen.
A month later, at least 10 were hospitalised after contracting cholera; the guests, who had attended a conference at Nairobi’s Weston Hotel, were taken ill after having lunch at the hotel.
When it comes to cholera and food poisoning, no one is immune.
Just a few days ago, opposition leader, Raila Odinga, was rushed to hospital after falling ill.
He was treated for food poisoning. On Friday last week, Treasury Cabinet Secretary (CS), Henry Rotich, was admitted to Nairobi Hospital where he was treated for cholera.
The CS was among other top government officials, including Trade CS Adan Mohammed and Trade Principal Secretary Chris Kiptoo, who were rushed to hospital after exhibiting cholera-like symptoms.
The three had eaten food served at a function held at the Kenyatta International Convention Centre.
Unlike this fast-striking form of food poisoning that has been making headlines, there is another that causes a slow accumulation of poisonous contaminants, whose effect ranges from miscarriages and stillbirths to organ failure and various forms of cancer.
In this case, the kitchens in our hotels, restaurants and institutions are not the genesis of the problem.
Your kitchen is.
Does your house help, who prepares most of the meals for your family, understand safe food handling, for example storage of food in the fridge, thawing and cooking before serving it?
Your fridge and microwave, the epitome of a modern Kenyan kitchen, also poses a serious health risk to you and your family, and to your guests.
Dr Andrew Edewa, an agro-food chain expert and lead consultant with Compliance Kenya Limited, an advisory organisation that supports institutions to set up food safety management systems, says;
“Food safety, now more than ever, must be taken very seriously by all people in the food chain; from the producers of the food, to those processing, those distributing, those preparing the food to those consuming it.”
According to Dr Edewa, food safety goes beyond the basics of hygiene, such as hand-washing.
It means ensuring the absence of anything in the food that would harm the consumer.
It is about an intentional observation of food safety quality standards to make sure that in every stage of the food chain, the food does not get contaminated and lead to food borne illnesses.
According to the World Health Organisation, (WHO) over 80 per cent of all illnesses are food-related.
“These illnesses are caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi, toxins and diseases transmitted to humans from animals.”
While all these can be controlled, most people along the food chain are ignorant of the contaminants that they expose the food to.
Food safety risks are experienced at every stage of food management.
The farmer using pesticides on that cabbage that will find its way to your dinner table, or the milk you will offer your child from a cow that is on veterinary drugs all pose health risks.
Even the soil that we plant our grains in could be a food safety risk.
Dr Edewa points out that while there are pesticides and veterinary drugs that are banned, even using the safe ones could pose a risk if the prescribed standards of usage are not adhered to.
“All veterinary medications and pesticides once administered in an animal or crop, require a certain amount of time for the chemical compounds to be broken down to safe forms before humans can consume that crop or the animal produce.”
Unfortunately, most of the time, farmers do not observe this requirement before presenting the produce to the consumers.
This might largely be due to ignorance on the part of the farmer, who might have limited access to information about food safety standards.
There have been cases however, where the farmer is aware of these requirements, but still takes his harvest to the market before the pesticide outlives the required interval between spraying and consuming.
Children and pregnant women are most vulnerable when it comes to contaminated food.
Children easily get dehydrated from diarrhoea, the most common symptom of ingesting contaminated food.
This can easily lead to death if there is no immediate medical care for a child.
Of concern is that many spontaneous abortions or miscarriages could be directly linked to consuming of food contaminants.
“There are three broad classifications of food contaminants or hazards, namely: chemical, physical and microbial or biological hazards,” Dr Edewa explains.
That juicy-looking sukumawiki growing by the road side could easily be loaded with lead, a highly toxic chemical contaminant.
Lead is a heavy metal that comes from the fumes from motor vehicles and sewage water.
Lead in food is one of the slow killers as it accumulates in the blood and intestines and causes poisoning of the nervous system, diseases of the blood, frequent dizziness and fainting spells, heart disease and kidney failure.
Sadly, children are at high risk as even very low levels of lead exposure will accumulate with time to cause chronic illnesses.
We need to realise that what we put into the plants or the animals will somehow end up in our bodies.
Once a cow or a chicken feeds on a plant, we then eat the egg from that chicken or drink the milk from that cow.
There are more chemical hazards in our environment or in products that we use in our foods, including mercury.
Fish, both deep sea fish as well as farm fish is a culprit in transmitting mercury toxins to human.
Also skin bleaching products liberally available as cosmetics contain mercury.