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Kebs okayed toxic maize used in flour

By Geoffrey Mosoku | November 12th 2019
Stacks of maize at the Eldoret National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) depot.

The Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) is on the spot after it emerged it had cleared the maize flour that has been recalled from the market.

In September, Kebs allowed the affected millers to continue production and issued them with standardisation mark stamps.

But last weekend, Kebs recalled the products and suspended the millers’ permits over the sale of substandard flour that is reportedly contaminated with high levels of aflatoxin.

It also emerged yesterday that the millers had bought their maize from the National Cereals and Produce Board (NCPB) at a subsidised price.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock had announced that NCPB was offering two million bags for sale to the public.

“The price for grades fit for human consumption and animal consumption is Sh2,300 and Sh1,400 per 90kg bag, respectively, subject to availability of stock,” the ministry stated.

On Saturday, Kebs said it had instructed the manufacturers to stop milling flour and recall products already in the market.

The affected millers are Alpha Grain Ltd (Kifaru), Kitui Flour Mills (Dola), Pan African Grain (Starehe), Kenblest Ltd (210) and Kensalrise Ltd (Jembe).

Last evening, Kebs Managing Director Bernard Njiraini was hard-pressed to explain how the organisation cleared maize and the milled flour for consumption only to turn around and disown the products.

He refused to comment on who cleared the maize from the NCPB stores as fit for human consumption. Lt Col (Rtd) Njiraini told The Standard that Kebs conducts continuous tests and can recall any product at any time if a miller is found to have violated the required standards.

“We have an agreement with all millers to follow specific procedures and standards. If we find that a product does not meet the required standards or has aflatoxin above the acceptable levels, we have to recall the same,” he said.

Njirani did not disclose when the latest tests that resulted in a ban were conducted. “I will have to check the dates, but all I am stressing is that we have an obligation to test all foods in the market.”

Kebs has set the maximum aflatoxin level in maize at ten parts per billion (ppb).

Random samples

On September 4, Kebs through JM Gachanja wrote to Alpha Grain Millers and cleared their products that comprise Kifaru sifted maize meal, Kifaru Ngano wheat flour, and Msafiri maize meal.

But Alpha Grain now says Kebs, in a letter dated November 7, notified it of plans to randomly pick samples of Kifaru maize meal batch no PD/18/9/2019 (21.19) for testing.

“As instructed through the contents of the same letter, we proceeded to withdraw the batch in question for purposes of internal and external testing, upon which the test results of tolerance levels were lower (1.51ppb) than the allowed maximum limit of 10ppb,” reads the company’s statement.

The Cereal Millers Association (CMA) protested the ban, saying it did not understand the laboratory parameters Kebs used to test the affected flour brands.

“Test results for aflatoxin differ from laboratory to laboratory. Therefore, we would like to take time to understand Kebs’ methodology of testing for aflatoxin and compare it with our own independent tests, which we do from time to time,” said CMA chair Mohamed Islam. Kitui Maize Millers also rejected the test results, saying the findings contradict reports from several independent tests that showed an acceptable aflatoxin level of 1.5ppb in their product.

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