Be warned. Your favourite brand of yoghurt could be fake.
The Ministry of Health busted a yoghurt manufacturing and distribution syndicate in Nakuru town yesterday.
The product was seized by officers from the ministry in Manyani estate, where it was being processed and packaged ready for market in Nakuru town and its environs.
The officers destroyed more than 200 litres of the fake yoghurt with strawberry and vanilla flavours.
Speaking after storming the illegal manufacturing den, Nakuru East Public Health Officer Vanice Kwamboka said the officers were conducting a polio vaccination exercise when residents informed them about the illegal processing.
Ms Kwamboka said she immediately informed police officers, who accompanied them to storm a house where they found five suspects processing and packaging the product.
During the Sunday evening incident, five suspects - Eusemia Osore, Kanuty Osore, Richards Myron, John Ombongi and Luke Ochieng - were arrested.
Kwamboka said they were shocked to find out that the fake yoghurt does not contain any milk content.
"The ingredients used for making the product include corn flour - a product specially made for thickening soups, sauces and gravies, food colouring and henna - a product used for decorating nails mostly by women and dying hair," she said.
Other products used by the syndicate include yeast, stabiliser powder used to give texture to the product to deceive consumers, sugar and water. "The illegal product does not have any milk content. The product is harmful because of chemicals used such as henna, a product used for decoration," said the officer.
To make the product, the syndicate mixes corn flour in water - with stabilisers to smoothen the texture - and then adds food colouring, henna and sugar.
To deceive residents, the label on the bottles of the fake product indicates that the ingredients were milk, sugar, skimmed milk powder, live cultures, permitted food colouring and flavours.
The label further indicated the product was processed and packaged by a certain company in Kericho County, including a contact number for customers wishing to make inquiries and orders.
Ironically, the product packaged in 300ml and 500ml plastic bottles, bears the Kenya Bureau of Standard mark of quality logo.
Kwamboka said officers from the ministry have intensified their search to arrest illegal operators and confiscate the product.
"The public should be warned against purchasing products that do not meet nutritional standards," she said.
A spot check by The Standard in Nakuru town revealed the product is highly consumed by residents, more so passengers because they are sold by hawkers at busy bus stages.
Grace Wambui, a hawker in the town, said the product is in high demand as compared to other varieties.
Ms Wambui said she purchases the product from individuals who collect it from a manufacturer in Ol Kalau and Kinangop, Nyandarua County.
Beth Kiarie, another trader, said although business is not running well, she receives a few clients who prefer the product because it is cheaper and 'sweeter' as compared to other brands. "Clients prefer the product because it is cheaper. For example, 500ml is sold at Sh70 as compared to others, which go for at least Sh100," said Ms Kiarie.
Kiarie said she sells at least 10 bottles of the yoghurt every day.
Surprisingly, a section of hawkers carry empty bottles bearing the brand label and immediately a client gives an order, they rush to an unknown location where they quickly refill them.
Nancy Kamura, who hawks the product, said the supplier advised them to do so to avoid quick expiry. "These bottles are displayed and whenever a client wants to make a purchase, I will buy it from other traders and our distributors," she said.
This came amid a warning by the ministry to residents against consuming food hawked in the market that does not meet nutritional standards.
The warning comes after a recent research conducted by the Health ministry indicated that 50 per cent of foodstuffs displayed in supermarkets did not have the nutrients indicated in the ingredients' list.
County Public Health Officer Samuel King'ori said during the research conducted in December, samples were picked from various supermarkets in the 11 sub-counties and tested in State laboratories.
"Consumers should be keen while purchasing processed foodstuffs sold in supermarkets because it has come to our attention that illegal traders have invaded the market to supply sub-standard food," said King'ori.
The officer further warned locals against drinking unpasteurised milk after 114 suspected cases of brucellosis were reported in the county in February, out of which 27 were positive.
The patients complained of high fever, sweating, severe headache, physical weakness, joint pains, weight loss and fatigue.