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Chicken in Nairobi contain hard to treat bacteria, researchers say

Health & Science

NAIROBI, KENYA: Research conducted by Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) recently established that most of the chicken sold in butcheries, supermarkets and retail outlets in Nairobi pose a serious health threat to consumers.

The chicken, now popular over health fears of red meat, are highly contaminated with disease causing germs, some which do not respond to common medicines.

A survey covering Nairobi and published on Wednesday, says the meat is not only highly contaminated, but also with hard to kill germs. Led by Dr Samuel Kariuki of Kemri, the researchers are calling on officials in the health sector to ensure hygiene principles in the processing and handling of chicken in retail outlets are immediately enforced for public safety.

The researchers, funded by the World Health Organisation and the Food and Agriculture Organisation, collected samples of raw chicken meat in 28 locations in Nairobi.

The poorer the area, the more contaminated the meat was found to be. Of the sample, 97 per cent was found to be contaminated with coliform bacteria while more than three quarters with bacteria E.coli.

Of the germs identified, 75 per cent were resistant to at least one of the 12 common antibiotics. Coliform bacteria and the subtype E.coli are found in the environment and in the feaces of warm blooded animals, including humans.

In this case, about half of the E.coli strains found in the sampled meat are known to cause bloody diarrhoea, kidney failure and even death. The team, including Joyce Arua Odwar of the Institute of Tropical Medicine and Infectious Diseases at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, warns Kenyans who buy raw chicken from retail outlets to cook it well.

The team says chicken meat in the local market is highly contaminated by the way its processed and handled by butchers. “The use of bare hands in handling meat, utensils and money at the same time may have increased chances of contamination,” the report says.

Common trend

Several years back, Kemri collected and analysed coins and paper money circulating in Nairobi, and established that the monies are covered with disease causing agents.

The common trend in which small-scale producers slaughter chicken at home then distribute to retailers was also found to be a cause of contamination. “All samples from supermarkets and a majority of those from high income butcheries were products of government approved private chicken slaughter houses and were less contaminated,” says the study published in the BMC Research Notes.

While transporting most of the slaughtered chicken, the researchers say the carcasses are normally lumped together in a large container or sack allowing transfer of germs from one carcass to the other. While chicken from the small scale producers, in most cases also involving indigenous breeds, may be more contaminated than from large producers, the latter was more likely to carry hard to treat bacteria.

“A common practice for broiler chicken producers in urban areas is to add antibiotics into the commercial feeds or drinking water for the birds, thus unnecessarily exposing them to human medicines,” say the research. This is the third time in as many months that major research institutions in the country are warning that Kenyans are eating highly contaminated foods, including fruits, vegetables, beef and even poisonous maize.

In June, a joint survey by Strathmore and other universities in Nairobi warned that most of the fruits and vegetables consumed in major towns contain a cocktail of harmful pesticides and heavy metals well above the safe levels.

Samples of kales, tomatoes and mangoes collected from markets in Nakuru, Nairobi and Machakos counties were found to contain high levels of pesticides that can cause birth defects, nerve damage and cancer in the long run.

Kenya has until the end of this month to comply with European Union requirements on the allowable pesticide residue levels of exported fresh produce. This follows complains from the EU that an increasing amount of fresh produce exported to the region exceeded the allowable levels.

“We have been given up to September 30, to fully comply with the EU chemical residual levels requirement, otherwise we will be locked out of the market,” says the Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Felix Koskei.

In May, Kemri warned Nairobians against goat meat slaughtered at Kiserian and Huruma abattoirs because they had been found to contain E. coli bacteria, even after the meat had been inspected.

An earlier survey by the Ministry of Health and the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, had found 65 per cent of maize meal from 20 of the major millers in six provinces to be highly contaminated with aflatoxin.

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