Beatrice Ngorobe selling fish at Nakuru Market. [Harun Wathari, Standard]

Dear Daktari, I have a query but I am not sure whether it is under your area of expertise.  I have observed a habit where people buy fish and poultry along the roadside. I am not so sure about the safety of fish bought in Naivasha and transported all the way to be fried and eaten in Meru. During transport, such fish is dangled either on the side mirror or on the wiper where it collects dust and exhaust fumes. What is your take on this with regard to food safety?

[Mark Juma, Nairobi]

Thank you Juma for that question. You have raised an issue that has been bothering me as well.

I am a regular traveler on our roads and I have watched with a lot of concern animals like poultry and fish being transported for kilometres with total disregard for animal welfare and food safety concerns.

But is this right and what does the law say?

Roadside poultry markets

According to the law, livestock are only to be sold in a designated place called a livestock market.

This is the case to control the spread of diseases. Animal traders like to bring to the market sick birds and thereby turning the same spots into sources of diseases.

Illegal roadside markets might be worse spaces for disease spread given the long hours birds pooled from various sources spend there without any veterinary check-ups.

No grazing aimlessly

You may not be aware of this but roadside grazing is outlawed by many bylaws because these areas are heavily contaminated with chemicals and disease-causing microorganisms thanks to the traffic they handle on a daily basis.

Fish and safety concerns

Now let me delve into the issue of fish. First, properly and legally slaughtered animal is safe for human consumption. The Meat Control Act Cap 356 sets out measures that must be observed during slaughter and transportation to ensure that the meat is safe for human consumption.

Steps to avoid fish contamination

Animal products can be fresh, processed or frozen meat products. Fish falls under the fresh meat products which means it has a limited shelf life.

For fish, we also eat the skin which means that it needs more stringent measures to avoid contamination.

Now after slaughter or death of these animals; the carcass loses that protective mechanism and it is easily a target of microbial contaminations.

Bacteria like Salmonella that initially could not grow now can easily proliferate and contaminate.

This contamination comes either from within the environment or inside the animal mainly from the digestive tract and lymph nodes.

Again, from what I have seen with our illegal roadside fish sellers, the product is sold with the scales and insides further increasing the chances of contamination of the meat with microorganisms.

Add to that the contaminants they might have ingested from the waters, it is alarming. The other source of contamination is the handlers and tools used to process such meat.

Note that most roads are among the most polluted places. There is dust from vehicles and exhaust fumes heavy with carcinogenic gases that can easily contaminate that fish.

So bad is the situation, animal welfare champion Dr Yamo Victor has raised alarm on several occasions.

The sight of a fish struggling to die as it is being advertised to be sold, is a matter of grave concern to animal rights activists. This is against animal welfare and a legal matter that can easily land one in court.

The World Organisation for Animal Health, Aquatic Animal Health Code section seven sets out the guidelines for slaughtering and transporting fish meant for human consumption.

It also details the animal welfare guidelines as relates to fish. The roadside fish does not comply with any of these guidelines.

[The writer is a Vet]