CARCINOGEN

Formalin in bread? The horror

How many, mainly children, are at risk of getting cancer because of this?

In Summary
  • If the allegations are true, how long would Kenyans have consumed formalin in bread?
  • Since the ‘standards’ bureau appears to be asleep on the job, how will Kenyans tell what is safe for consumption and what is not?

About three weeks ago, I read about claims in the social media that a certain brand of bread sold in Kenya was being preserved using formalin.

Formalin, a colourless substance is derived from formaldehyde, which is a known cancer causing agent. The best known use for formalin is the preservation of dead bodies in mortuaries. It can also be used (illegally) to increase the shelf life of fresh food. By using this unsafe preservative therefore, the bread manufacturer’s intention is to ensure longer shelf life for the product. But at what cost to consumers?

If my own experiment is anything to go by, the bread manufacturers have achieved their objective. I have, since coming across the information, kept some slices of the bread in question and they only started showing signs of decay at the end of the third week.

Online, I have gathered that formalin is a chemical substance used in various industries such as textiles, plastics, paper, paint, construction, etc. Online sources indicate that the carcinogenic substance can cause nausea, coughing and burning sensation in the eyes, nose and throat in the short term. This can lead to sneezing, sore throat, bronchitis and pneumonia. Multiple exposures can lead to asthma and it can also affect the skin, causing dermatitis or allergic reaction.

But more worrying, it can cause cancer if consumed over a long period of time. So if the allegations about it being used to preserve bread are true, how long would Kenyans have consumed formalin in bread? How many, mainly children, are at risk of getting cancer because of this?

Kenyans have been known to get rich by any means and someone in authority should come out to tell Kenyans whether or not formalin is being used to preserve bread.

A study showed mice exposed to formalin with concentration of six to 15 parts per million (ppm) for two years developed squamous-cell carcinoma (the second most common form of skin cancer), in the nostril. Some other studies also show formalin will cause kidney, liver, and lung problems.

An online article on formalin in food posted on September 9, 2010, speaks to its widespread use in the preservation of fish, fruit and other food items in some Asian countries, saying it was posing a threat to public health. “The chemical used as a solution in water keeps fish fresh and makes fruits like mangoes attractive. This chemical, usually used to stop dead bodies from rotting, is now being used to preserve edible items”, adds the article.

In this country, stories have been told of formalin being among other harmful substances that have been used in the making of illicit brews, but apart from the usual knee-jerk reaction of chiefs and assistant chiefs rushing to pour drums of the alcohol, no firm government action has been taken. The brewers continue to flourish within days of the crackdowns. And more Kenyans are exposed to the risk of cancer and death.

A few months ago, the government announced the withdrawal of certain brands of maize meal products from the shelves due to their excess aflatoxin levels, but since then we have not heard of follow-up action. How many brands of the banned products are back on the shelves? Why and how did they come back? Are we still consuming unga that has unacceptable levels of aflatoxin?

Since the allegations of bread laced with formalin were made early this month, little in form of information or clarification has come from the public health authorities. While the allegations could be false, the subject is too weighty to be wished away. Kenyans have been known to get rich by any means and someone in authority should come out to tell Kenyans whether or not formalin is being used to preserve bread.

Since the ‘standards’ bureau appears to be asleep on the job, how will Kenyans tell what is safe for consumption and what is not? Kenyans have been left to their own devices where they are eating ‘poisoned’ food and years later dying of cancer in a country where healthcare is too expensive and is controlled by greedy thieves with cut-throat targets.

Where is the people’s government in all this? BBIing, I guess.