Red meat concerns: What next for Kenyans?

[Photo Sammy Omingo/standard]
Are you eating red meat? If the happenings of the last few days are anything to go by, I am sure you are wondering how safe your meat is.

Early this week, a shocking investigative story aired on NTV revealed how supermarkets and butchers were selling meat laced with chemicals raising food safety health concerns.

The expose revealed how some meat retailers, including supermarkets, are abusing Sodium Metabisulfite (a food preservative) to give fresh meat products a longer shelf life.

In a reaction to the exposé, Cabinet Secretary Silicy Kariuki, on Monday, ordered health ministry officials to carry out raids on meat retailers to test the levels of Sodium Metabisulfite in meat products on sale.

After health official collected samples, the Health CS Kariuki revealed that six out of the 40 meat samples collected randomly from retailers in Nairobi and tested in Government laboratories, had high amounts of Sodium Metabisulfite.

Subsequently, the CS, ordered health officials to close down six outlets, including meat section of supermarkets, whose stocks were found to contain excessive amounts of the preservative.

The affected retailers were Muthaiga Fine Meats Limited, Tuskys Buruburu, Naivas Mavoko, and Tuskys Kenyatta Avenue.

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Kenyans are now left wondering how to tell good meat from bad meat.

Chopped meat being mixed with preservatives [Image, NTV]
How do you tell fresh meat?

Food Scientist and City Butcher Joseph Nge’the told Standard Digital that buyers can use different approaches to determine if their meat purchases are fresh.

According to Nge’the, consumers should not purchase meat products with pungent smell as it is an indication that it is rotten.

Nge’the says buyers can also judge the quality of meat through its general appearance and touch.

“It should not slide on your fingers and a greenish-black colour is a pointer that the meat is not fresh,” he says adding that he meat should not stick on surfaces.

The butcher also says that fresh meat usually has a light red colour.

Concerns

While the Ministry of Health approves the use of Sodium Metabisulfite as a preservative in the right dosage (10 grams per kilo), experts reveal it is likely to be found in excess in chopped pieces or packaged meat.

“You cannot administer the preservative on top of large pieces of hanged carcasses because it will not be helpful. It works best when mixed with chopped pieces,” Nge’the says.

In that regard, Nge’the advices buyers to ask butchers to sell them hanged meat as opposed to chopped pieces or that which is already packaged.

He adds that customers can also verify the safety of meat by digging for more background information from the supplier or retailer.

“For every delivery of meat, especially carcasses, there is always a certificate of transport, who slaughtered the meat and where it is slaughtered. Buyers demand for them,” he says.

Veterinary Surgeon Dr Kenneth Wameyo who also spoke to Standard Digital says buyers of meat products can detect whether they are consuming too much chemicals through taste.

“Just like salt, meat preserved with excessive chemicals has a sour taste,” he explained.

Way forward

Both Nge’the and Dr Wameyo say the government should train retailers on the right way to preserve meat using chemical preservatives.

Moreover, Dr Wameyo proposes that, “Retailers should declare to buyers the chemicals they have used in preservation at the point of purchase to allow them make informed choices on whether to buy the product or not”.

Dr Wameyo is worried that retailers have opted for chemical preservation of food instead of refrigeration, which is much safer. He opines that high electricity costs could be the reason why retailers opt for chemicals.

“Ideally, to prevent food from going bad, they are supposed to be refrigerated under the right temperatures. We are entering into these problems because people are finding it expensive to store highly perishable foodstuffs in cold rooms” notes Dr Wameyo.

Now you know. Next time you go buying meat products, look out for the signs. Stay safe!

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Red MeatSodium Metabisulfite