By Napoleon Ato Kittoe
There have been recurring accidents in Ghana. This relates to the cooked food business or Ingestion of food for life’s sustenance or their health implications thereof. A serious matter it is as food is indispensable to life and its demand inelastic but it also holds tragic consequences for all living things including humans if food is not wholesome.
When food poisoning was alleged as the cause of death of a Ghanaian fashion icon nearly 10 years ago, it shocked many for they had never imagined that was the medium to end that colourful life. That cause is not confirmed but it was rumoured. It is not as simplistic as that view given the issues which attend the wider subject of food poisoning, even beyond the medical interpretation of it.
Within the Ghanaian context, the laws set out the parameters for operations in the food chain, the most important bit of it being the state in which the food was before consumption took place. The laws, enforced by regulators are to pin players in the food chain industry to acceptable practice for public good. Key among the regulators are the Ghana Standards Authority and the Food and Drugs Authority. The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, CSIR-Ghana, also has more than a dozen institutes which are food related, encompassing soil to end products such as food in their raw state and processed foods, water, fish and animal production. The Council which provides a technical anchor conducts laboratory tests on behalf of the regulators, though that duty is a shared one among designated institutions.
The organized sector of Ghana’s food business highlights acceptable practice where licenced operators open up to cardinal responsibilities for standardization and quality assurance. This has not been foolproof as some manage to evade and skip the testing regime to make it to the market where products come face to face with consumers. The need for food tests has become even more imperative than ever before. From the aerial point of view comes the danger of pesticides sprayed on crops. Inside the soils are the leach of poisonous chemicals used in mining that contaminates the water table in the earth. It is from here the tap roots of crops In the open air operations uptake water for their growth. Inside this combination is the growing incidence of kidney diseases which now is one of the leading causes of death in Ghana. The developed world places emphasis on clean agricultural material (produce), thus its spécifications are addressed by agriculture/farming done under controlled conditions.
The FDA has time and again interlocked the markets serving warnings on the illegality and giving public notices on the dangers of lacing palm oil with “sudan dye” also called “sudeen” to give the product an enhanced form of its colour pigment. The adulteration could cause leukemia, cancer, liver and kidney diseases, all of which are fatal, according to health experts. It must be said that similar mischievous tendencies are happening to the other products in the food chain in clear violation of safety regulations.
The CSIR Soil Research Institute in Kumasi, in an investigation into a rejected cocoa export to the Far East from Ghana, confirmed the basis to be the presence of the mineral called Lead in the export. Among the punchlines in the October 2022 retreat to Tamale, capital of Ghana’s northern région, by food scientists, biosafety experts and environmentalists, and facilitated by the American Embassy in Ghana, was the one that held Lead to be very harmful chemical that stays in the environment for years, far outliving the period of the activity which induced it.
A write up by CNN blogger, Jennifer Bloom titled THE COST OF ACTIVISM: TACKLING KENYA’S LEAD PROBLEM” and published on 23 April, 2018, had the following excerpts.
“….villagers were suffering the smelter’s toxic effects. At night, the factory spewed thick, black smoke from its chimneys. Owino Uhuru residents said they would sometimes have to sleep outside to avoid choking on the fumes that would waft through their windows and become trapped in their homes. Factory emissions would also cause acid rain, mixing into the soil and eating through villagers’ corrugated metal roofs.
….We used to get rain water from the roofs,” explains Owino Uhuru resident Rose Obuya. “We used to use it for domestic consumption–drinking, cooking, bathing–but all of a sudden, we realized that the rain water has a bitter taste. It wasn’t normal.”
Villagers also noticed a brown, cloudy effluent being released from underneath the factory wall. The liquid would flow downhill through the village and gather at a small body of stagnant water where children played and residents would draw their water.
Abdominal pain, dizziness, diarrhea, coughing and fatigue became common complaints among Owino Uhuru residents. Children and adults began developing large, scaly skin rashes. Several women began to miscarry, sometimes repeatedly.”
Lead is just one of the many toxic elements in our environment which could unknowingly be transferred to the dining tables. It is commendable to have found the Fisheries Commission and the Food and Drugs Authority move in swiftly to investigate the possible outcomes on those who defied official orders and consumed dead species of marine material that washed up on the coast of Accra, Ghana in April, 2021. Though no fatalities came up for mention, such research gives us important pointers for further action.
And that action must effectively draw the rings around the informal sector where players are uncoordinated and a loose arena. The January 2023 Oyibi incident where 5 persons died upon eating the ever popular local dish called waakye from the same source throws up many issues. Lovers of waakye will tell you that they occasionally experienced stomach upsets, and that gives a huge lead to probe further. In the Oyibi case, whiles 40 or more were admitted to hospital, the meal spelt the doom of the hapless 5 whose life force petered away shortly after consumption. It was first of its kind in the business history of the particular food vendor, raising the suspicions that a toxin might have found its way into the food, through any of the adulterated formulas, or the natural food-borne illnesses caused by bacteria or by a sinister act. The rapidly catastrophic consequence on those who died appear to suggest weak physiological immunities of victims or they probably consumed the portion most laced with a toxic substance. Oyibi, coming on the heels of a similar incident in Takoradi, must sharpen our focus since we have gone past the eye-opening phase. They question may be asked: Was Oyibi the case of food poisoning or the food was poisoned ?
Take the example of the vultures. It is one of the feathered beasts claimed to bear a meat with very awful taste. Research has found that the vulture meat tastes like dead carcasses it feeds on, yet it has powerful mechanism able to contain bacteria it ingests. The meat is unpopular and Its consumption highly discouraged in medical journals. Yet, many years agoz the Ashanti regional capital, Kumasi, revealed one of the ugliest faces of mischief in the cooked food business when the curious found out the connection between repeated scenes of dead vultures on refuse dumps and a local eatery place. The brains behind this wicked act sprayed sites of refuse with poison which killed the scavenging vultures. Then they dressed the carcasses and sold them to a particular eatery. This amounted to public deceit in a monstrous form. Probably, it is only in war times in few jurisdictions that scarcities and the need to survive, forced people to consume vultures.
Unemployment has driven many young people into the business of barbecues (khebabs). Chevon and cabrito, are the names of the meat coming from the adult and the young goat respectively. Goat meat have a powerful scent that makes for its distinctiveness and easy identification. Same cannot be said of other meats on the skewer where grilling irons out the differences or identity. The question arises as to whether meat in soups, stews and on skewers of barbecues are not from the carcasses of already dead animals or were killed on purpose? Inside the various human actions that result in the death of animals, an act called theriocide, are instances of poisoning. How well are the carcasses detoxified before consumption? The food regulators with the help of patriotic members of the public, owe the good people of Ghana the sacred duty of discovering the ways and means of actors in the food retail business.
The story is told of a woman whose sources supplied her with rotten and disused vegetable cuttings destined for the dustbin. She would then use the electrical kitchen appliance called blender to mix all the soft produce together into liquid for the preparation of “shito” and sold to the public. Shito is a black pepper sauce and once it is in its blackened state, it leaves you with no clues about the sources and the nature of ingredients that formed its composition.
It is very scary out there, especially as a chunk of the population feeds from the wayside which is cheaper than the restaurants.