FOOD POISONING

Why you need to avoid roadside mutura and boiled eggs

While some samples were given a clean bill of health, others were found to contain germs from faecal matter that can cause illness in humans within three to four hours of ingestion

In Summary

• For any cooked food to be safe, it must contain zero E. coli and a reasonable number of coliforms, which vary depending on the type of food but should not exceed 10

• Samples of roadside snacks, however, were found to have high levels of germs that can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea within three to four hours of ingestion

Mutura joint.
Mutura joint.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

Mutura, a blood-soaked delicacy, remains Kenya’s top traditional blood sausage among many, especially beer lovers.

The delicacy is made with fresh blood and a blend of ginger, garlic, scallions, cilantro and fistfuls of chillies.

 

Mutura requires skill to produce and must be made fresh to prevent the offal from spoiling. Unlike processed sausages, it contains no preservatives and is meant to be eaten within a day or so.

 
 
 

Most mutura vendors are strategically located at local bar joints, where mutura is sold alongside other delicacies like soup made from cow or goat head and feet.

Eggs and smokies.
Eggs and smokies.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

Before drinking, many beer lovers would wish to have some mutura accompanied by the soup, in what they believe will keep them sober even after drinking.

However, the Star has established that most of these muturas and boiled eggs are contaminated with disease-causing germs and are not fit for human consumption.

Results from the National Public Health Laboratory indicate that the muturas and eggs have a high presence of E. coli bacteria, which indicates human or animal faecal contamination, hence shouldn’t be consumed.

Food experts say it is an indication that the germs produce poisonous toxins, which cause illness upon ingestion.

 
Mutura joint.
Mutura joint.
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

POTENTIAL REACTION

According to the lab results, with such high numbers of CFU/ml in a single plate count, the samples thus carry dangerous germs that cause a sudden onset of illness in humans within three to four hours of ingestion.

LAB RESULTS

The Star’s move to undertake the tests was prompted by a colleague being admitted and diagnosed with food poisoning after consuming the delicacy at one of the joints in town.

 
 
 
 
 

We collected samples of mutura from popular joints in Kangemi, Westlands, CBD and Umoja in Eastlands.

Just to be sure that the food being sold is safe, we went further to collect samples of boiled eggs and smokies from the said areas.

After NTV aired the popular red meat alert, we made a request to the laboratory through the Director of Public Health to undertake the tests.

Upon being granted our request, we were issued with sterilised carriers that we used to collect the samples.

When results were released, it was confirmed that the samples of mutura and boiled eggs were contaminated. All the samples of smokies, however, were given a clean bill of health as fit for human consumption.

For instance, from the mutura sample we collected in Kangemi, tests had indicated that it contained 150 E. coli in 1g, with 2,400 coliforms and 100 colony-forming units per millilitre (CFU/ml) of absolute plate count at 30 degrees centigrade.

The mutura sample from CBD indicated 4 E. coli and 2,400 coliforms in 1g of the sample, with 150 CFU/ml at an absolute plate count of 30 degrees C.

But for the sample we collected in Umoja, it had 0 e.coli and 3 coliforms in one gram with 10 CFU/ml at the same absolute plate count of 30 degrees C. This, the lab indicated, was fit for consumption.

With regards to boiled eggs, the sample we collected from a popular joint in Westlands had 3 E. coli and 2,400 coliforms in 1g, with 200 CFU/ml at a plate count of 30 degrees.

Another sample collected at a popular bus station in the CBD had 1,100 E. coli and 2,400 coliforms in 1g, with an absolute plate count of 2,000 CFU/ml at 30 degrees.

The third sample picked at a popular joint in Eastlands was given a clean bill of health after it indicated 0 E. coli and 210 coliforms in 1g with 250 CFU/ml plate count of 30 degrees.

According to the lab results, with such high numbers of CFU/ml in a single plate count, the samples thus carry dangerous germs that cause a sudden onset of illness in humans within three to four hours of ingestion.

Though other bacteria like Staphylococcus, Bacillus, Streptococcus and Proteus were not isolated in the tests, lab experts said the presence of coliforms and E. coli is an indication the samples bear faecal contamination.

Such contamination, they said, is prone to cause infections characterised by nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea.

The handlers either use dirty water in the preparation process or use dirty cutlery like knives in cutting the mutura or spoons in peeling the eggs
KNH lab technician Gerald Gikonyo

ROOT OF CONTAMINATION

To establish where the contamination occurs, we reached out to Gerald Gikonyo, a lab technician with the National Public Health Laboratory based at KNH.

He said in most cases, it is not easy to tell whether it is just poor hygiene by the vendors or whether it occurs at the preparation.

This theory is confirmed by the fact that all the samples for smokies collected got a clean bill of health after indicating zero for number of coliforms, E. coli and CFU/ml.

“This is evidence that the smokies are well handled during processing and well packaged, as opposed to mutura and boiled eggs,” Gikonyo said.

A mutura joint in Nairobi
A mutura joint in Nairobi
Image: VICTOR IMBOTO

“The handlers either use dirty water in the preparation process or use dirty cutlery like knives in cutting the mutura or spoons in peeling the eggs.” 

He also said most vendors do not have cashiers to handle money, and thus the contact with money could be the major cause of contamination.

But Dr Fred Kinami says in most cases, food contamination occurs when the food contains microorganisms that are not fit for human consumption.

At the health facility where he is based, the doctor admits that 5-10 people are treated of food contamination in a week. Though the cases are seasonal, most of them are reported during festive seasons and weekends.

During festive seasons there are a lot of people selling food, and in most cases, the foods are prepared under poor hygiene. Same applies to weekends
Dr Fred Kinami

Kinami said upon ingestion of food, the body detects contamination in the intestines, where absorption takes place.

“At this point, if the body detects contamination early enough, it will result in nausea and vomiting. If not at the absorption, it will reject through flash fluids that cause diarrhoea,” he said.

The doctor said for any cooked food to be safe, it must contain zero E. coli and a reasonable number of coliforms, which vary depending on the type of food but should not exceed 10.

Kinami said when food is said to be contaminated by human waste, the two aspects they look at is whether the water used in preparation is questionable or the hygiene of the handler.

“In most cases, you will find the water used in cooking had contents of human waste. If not, then those who handled the food had contact with human waste,”  he said.

This investigation comes after a previous one that established many residents were using water that is mixed with human waste.

In the investigation, the Star established that residents in the counties of Nairobi, Machakos and Kajiado whose main source of water is Nairobi had been subjected to this contaminated water. 

In October last year, food experts warned of deadly germs in most of the popular ‘mutura’ sold in Nairobi.

A team of experts and researchers from the University of Nairobi in the report said the mutura was contaminated with staphylococcus, bacillus, streptococcus, proteus and E. coli organisms, which could make consumers very sick.

The team had collected 100 samples of ‘mutura’ from ready-to-eat vending sites and meat eatery points in Westlands market, Kangemi market and Pangani estate.

They found evidence of all the five types of bacteria in 80 per cent of the tested samples.

“We found Staphylococcus spp at 50.4 per cent, Bacillus spp at 19.5 per cent, Streptococcus spp 9.8 per cent, Proteus spp 2.4 per cent and E coli spp at 1.6 per cent,” the report read.

Despite it being prepared in unhygienic conditions, mutura remains a much-sought-after delicacy.

FIGHTING THE MENACE

The experts said with such alarming findings, food safety enforcement authorities need to scale up inspection of establishments where the muturas are prepared and sold.

“All we can say is that the growing unregulated ready-to-eat meat culture in most towns might become a threat to public health if no measures are taken,” Gikonyo said.

The Public Health department at City Hall confirmed to have received numerous complaints of food contamination.

In a phone interview with the Star, Public Health deputy director Wilson Langat said complaints had originated from clients who had consumed food bought from those selling on road reserves.

“We have tried to conduct our own independent sampling and destroyed those that tested positive for contamination. We have also taken action against vendors of such foods,” Langat said.

He said the major challenge has, however, been that food vending, especially on road reserves, remains unregulated, and thus ending the menace is still difficult.

"Most of the time we rely on enforcement and arrests, but where we stand, there are no better policies in place to effectively crack down on food vending,” Langat said.

“As a matter of fact, we cannot be everywhere all the time, so this has given a golden opportunity to some people who, in trying to make a living, end up selling contaminated food.”

Langat said most of these foods are prepared in the evening hours, when City Hall enforcement officers are not in the vicinity.

We tried to get any existing data on the number of cases of food contamination, how many people are affected, and which foods are mostly contaminated. However, Public Health director-general Dr Wekesa Massabi did not pick our calls or respond to text messages and email.

This is after one ministry official indicated to us that there is no clear data on the subject. The source said the number of contamination cases, especially in Nairobi county, exceeds the few cases that have been documented.

The source added that such data can be made available with effective investigation and reinforcement by stakeholders.

The World Health Organisation in its data estimates that 91 million people in Africa fall ill from consuming contaminated food every year, and 137,000 die as a result. The agency called for food control systems to meet changing needs for better protection of public health.   

WHO representative to Kenya Rudi Eggers said the economic costs of the food-related illnesses and deaths are estimated at $95.2 billion in lost productivity and $15 billion in medical expenses in low and middle-income countries.

Edited by Tom Jalio