By Moses AMADI
The rate at which Nigerians are unsuspectingly consuming foods that are prepared with harmful substances is disturbing.
Restaurants, eateries and households in the bid to make cooking faster, use injurious items referred to as tenderizers such as paracetamol, nails, kerosene, tyres, potash, detergents or cleaning agents (to boost fermentation of cassava or to prepare foo foo ‘akpu’), among others.
With modernity and the changing role of women, many are either guilty of, or complicit in this unwholesome practice by way of saving cost and time. Some do it out of ignorance while others do so deliberately, and it becomes a habit.
Some of such cooking practices emanate from cultural practices and traditions. Some women cook the way they were taught while being brought up. In some community, fish could be cooked for a whole day in an earthen pot so that the bones will crumble along with the flesh, not minding the overcooking.
Such cooking pattern lends to different interrogatories when compared with a system that believes that fish could be cooked for about an hour and used for pepper soup, for instance. In this instance, accommodating difference and dissent will become a challenge. While one believes their method is a reality that cannot be changed, the other believes such experience is the standard for misery.
Experts reveal that benzene is one of the by-products of the degradation of paracetamol. For better understanding, benzene is equally the smell one inhales in petrol stations. It is poisonous and carcinogenic, meaning that it causes cancer. But the pharmacist is able to convert benzene into a useful product or drug called paracetamol.
Using paracetamol as a tenderizer in cooking, means degrading and destroying the process of producing the drug, hence freeing up benzene that converts the paracetamol into a more deadly form. In other words, when paracetamol is heated, its components that have been put together under an ideal condition are disassembled.
Every food or drug that we take has limits of acceptability. That is why in the pharmaceutical world, it is said that all drugs are poisons. It is a question of dosage. The dosage that will prevent death is different from the one that will cause loss of life.
Health practitioners say the reason 500mg paracetamol, for example, is recommended is because the pharmacist has done their laboratory research that enables them give out information through a literature leaflet in the drug pack containing laboratory investigation including the therapeutic dose that can cure a particular ailment.
Drug abuse and misuse is not only limited to the use of tramadol, codeine, among others. The habit of using paracetamol as a tenderiser is also a form of drug abuse and misuse because there is no mode or mechanism of regulating the dose.
Medical authorities warn that paracetamol is not for everybody. Because of some people’s lifestyles and health issues, they are not allowed to take paracetamol. Such persons include pregnant women because the babies’ organs are just developing, and their exposure to harmful chemicals is detrimental. Alcoholics, those with compromised liver, among others, are also exempt from taking paracetamol. These people are encouraged to talk to their doctors before taking paracetamol if need be. But when paracetamol is incorporated into the food system, it becomes dangerous as these restrictions are removed.
Pomo (animal skin) is injected with chemicals or cooked with potash to soften it. Since the chemical stays in the skin even though some argue that it is superficial, it becomes dangerous.
Industry practitioners are of the view that people who are at risk of hypertension, should not consume food including beans cooked with potash. It raises risk of hypertension and complicates hypertensive condition. As a remedy, one can pick the dirt in beans, wash, soak and leave it in the refrigerator overnight. By the time it is placed on fire, it won’t take that long to cook. Slow cooking is the way to go.
Food issues are very delicate in the sense that whatever is consumed, determines whether one lives or dies. Adding substances while cooking is highly toxic and could lead to devastating health challenges. The liver can be damaged which adversely affects other vital organs of the body.
Research indicates that the liver is the organ which metabolises or breaks down the drug that we take in, so that the useful part can go to where it is needed and do the job it is supposed to do. The liver takes out toxic products but when it is given excess work to do, it can shut down and the kidney can be compromised. When the liver is unable to carry out its assignment, it collapses.
Health specialists say carbon-monoxide from generator fumes and other sources can kill because it has higher affinity to blood (haemoglobin) than oxygen. In science, it is called “shifting the curve to the left.” In the same manner, the affinity of paracetamol to the blood is even higher than that of carbon-monoxide to the blood. This forms a very harmful compound which can cause immediate liver failure.
Findings reveal that in using nail as a tenderiser, radicals or chemicals such as iron and lead are freed or released and they go into the body to do all kinds of harm. This is achieved through a leaching process where some of the trace elements of the nail can act as a catalyst that speeds up certain chemical reactions. According to experts, lead causes madness because it affects the brain.
Tyre roasting is bad because tyre contains some chemicals. The dripping of the liquid or juice from the meat and the fat mix with the flame. They rise with the smoke and infuse into the tissues of the meat. What you have in the end is poison. This complicates health matters as records show that there are more cases of liver, renal and kidney failure than was the case in the past.
However, studies show that there are available natural tenderisers such as the juice extracted from pawpaw leaves, the middle stock of the pineapple, among others. These natural ingredient-based tenderisers can be converted into powders at the industrial level.
Industry experts should find a way of utilising research results already domiciled in the academia. These can be developed into diagnostic tools that will serve as markers to ascertain the presence or otherwise of paracetamol and other toxic substances in foods.
Health analysts suggest that beans pudding (moimoi) should not be wrapped with cellophane, nylon, aluminium containers, among others. The way to go is to use natural broad leaves to wrap moimoi, okpa, among others, and cook, just like the way agidi is prepared.
The problem we have is lack of proper sensitisation mechanism. As a nation, there is a need for a deliberate mechanism or policy to begin to address the use of drugs and other harmful elements in cooking. It is time to bring these unhealthy food practices to public consciousness, and put mechanisms in place to curb such excesses of individuals trying to cut cost at the detriment of innocent food-loving Nigerians.