The Osun State government recently called on caterers and food vendors in the state to stop the pernicious practice of using paracetamol to tenderise meat and using bleaching detergents for cassava processing, ostensibly to induce whiteness in the popular foods, fufu and gari. The warning was issued in Osogbo at a joint news conference addressed by the Special Adviser on Public Health to the state governor, Siji Olamiju, and the state Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mrs. Funke Egbemode, on the harmful effects of the practices on vital organs of the body such as the liver, kidneys, heart and the small intestines. Olamiju, who disclosed that the dangerous trend was recently uncovered by public health surveillance volunteers assigned to visit primary health centres across the state, urged the perpetrators to desist from the practices which he said portended great danger to the health of consumers. He noted that hypo, a bleaching agent meant for laundry, was not even supposed to come into contact with the human skin.
On her part, Egbemode disclosed that in embarking on public sensitisation on the issue across the state, the government wanted to put paid to the adverse health implications associated with the illicit practices over the years. While noting that paracetamol, a pain-relieving medication, was being used to boil meat and process tough cow leg in order to cut costs and to reduce cooking time, she lamented the use of hypo detergent to process cassava, a practice which she said could cause can cause slow and instalmental death.
It is indeed strange that the typical Nigerian practice of cutting corners has been taken to the culinary level. Across all strata of the Nigerian society, people cut corners without minding the cost in terms of social dysfunction and dislocation. With respect to the issue under reference, though, kudos must be given to the Osun State government for bringing such a matter of serious national concern to public knowledge. As it were, an unknown number of Nigerians would have consumed paracetamol-boiled meat and hypo-processed gari over the years and inherited the associated health problems without the slightest inkling of the real sources of their medical challenges. This is why the Osun State government, as well as its counterparts across the country, must step up their act and ensure that the pernicious practices are brought to a halt, including via legislation, where necessary. Indeed, some caterers and food vendors who have hitherto not engaged in the devious practice of tenderising meat through unorthodox means might even choose to experiment with the paracetamol method now that it has become public knowledge, and in order to cut corners. State and local governments must therefore ensure that restauranteurs, caterers and food vendors abide by the approved practices.
As experts have warned, the dangers of paracetamol toxicity include liver and kidney failure. Paracetamol is metabolised primarily in the liver into toxic and non-toxic products. Some final products are inactive, non-toxic, and eventually excreted by the kidneys. However, there is an intermediate product that is toxic and induces acute liver failure. When the drug is used for cooking, it is broken down into aminophenol, which is highly toxic to the kidney. It is a fact that high consumption of analgesics over many years is an established cause of kidney failure. According to the Nigerian Association of Nephrology, about 25 million Nigerians have kidney failure. This statistics is distressing, to say the least, and there is no need to further compound the burden by creating new cases.
According to nutritionists, tough meat can be tenderised by slicing, velveting, soaking in a mixture of cornstarch, rice wine, salt, sugar and egg whites, marinating with vinegar or citrus juices, soaking in salt-water solution, and even pounding, before cooking. While all of these methods admittedly have time implications, whatever discomfort that may originate with respect to time is much more than compensated for by safety. We therefore urge local and state governments to step up enlightenment and advocacy campaigns along these lines. In the same vein, the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) should take more than a passing interest in the ongoing advocacy. It should liaise with state governments and other relevant agencies and roll out enlightenment programmes on food and drugs practices. There is no doubt that a host of other pernicious food and drug practices are yet to come to light. They should come to light, which is why we urge academic institutions, as part of their social responsibilities, to be part of the advocacy. The battle may be tough, but it must be won.