Ensure you buy inspected meat this festive season

Locally, meat inspection is carried out by veterinary doctors assisted by meat inspectors; their specific roles are outlined in the Meat Control Act Cap 356.  

The end-of-year festivities are here. As is our culture, Christmas and New Year are always marked by merry-making and feasting.

Meat in its various forms – boiled, fried and roasted - is usually in high demand at this time of the year. It is a good time to sell cows, shoats or poultry. They usually certainly fetch a good price. Demand will likely outstrip supply, and this is likely to motivate some unscrupulous business people into taking shortcuts by selling uninspected meat that can be deadly when consumed.Many diseases can be spread by eating uninspected meat; meat can also be contaminated by chemicals or anti-microbial agents that can harm human beings.

To avoid this, governments the world over have laws that govern the process of meat inspection and instituted hefty penalties for anybody flouting these regulations. Just like any other human food or animal feed safety is of paramount importance. When an animal is slaughtered in a designated slaughterhouse it ensures that the meat is handled well. Meat inspection helps to prevent public health hazards like foodborne pathogens or chemical contamination. Meat inspection also plays an integral part in the overall monitoring of certain animal diseases and the verification of compliance with animal welfare standards. Meat inspection is an important control point for the early identification of problems that may impact public health.

Locally, meat inspection is carried out by veterinary doctors assisted by meat inspectors; their specific roles are outlined in the Meat Control Act Cap 356.  Meat inspection does not start with the meat, it starts with the ante-mortem inspection of the animal to be slaughtered to ascertain that it is healthy. 

Joel Amenya displays meat at his butchery at Kisii Municipal Market on 24/12/2023. Most butchers stocked meat ahead of this festive season. [Sammy Omingo, Standard]

Only healthy, physiologically normal animals should be slaughtered for human consumption. At ante-mortem inspection, the general behaviour of animals is observed as well as their nutritional status, cleanliness, wounds, signs of diseases and abnormalities. Some of the abnormalities that inspectors look for include respiration, posture, discharges, swellings, and smell. Post-mortem examination of the carcass, on the other hand, is done after dressing. Post-mortem inspection aims at detecting any abnormalities so that the product is fit for human consumption.  The carcass will be observed, palpated or cut by the inspector during the stage and samples collected for further laboratory examination.

At this stage, the inspector looks out for localised or generalised conditions. Any portion that is abnormal or the presence of diseases presents a health hazard to public health. 

It is a requirement by law that all meat for public consumption is slaughtered at a slaughterhouse. Home slaughters are illegal since this is mostly done in an area that does not have the requisite sanitary standards. The Meat Control Act specifies the standards that should be met by a slaughterhouse, including good natural lighting, enough clean water and space for holding live animals and disposal of condemned carcasses, among other requirements. 

When meat is approved after inspection, it will be stamped with purple, edible ink. The dye used in the stamp is made from a food-grade vegetable dye and it is edible. Always look out for this mark when buying meat. From the slaughterhouse, animals should transported in a manner that protects the carcass.

[Dr Othieno is a veterinary surgeon and currently the head of communications at the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) Kenya. The views expressed here are not necessarily those of FAO but his own] 

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