Milk sold in Nairobi may contain harmful aflatoxins – ILRI

As Kenyans continue to come to terms with the death of Governor Joyce Laboso, it is best to question the reason for the upward trajectory of new cancer diagnoses and

  • PublishedJuly 30, 2019

As Kenyans continue to come to terms with the death of Governor Joyce Laboso, it is best to question the reason for the upward trajectory of new cancer diagnoses and the 33,000 cancer-related deaths recorded annually in Kenya. The types of food people consume can be linked to different types of cancer.

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In a study conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) alongside Swedish scientists, it was revealed that half the milk sold in Nairobi was carcinogenic. Half of the milk both from wayside vendors and kiosks and high-end supermarkets was found to contain cancer-causing aflatoxins. The tests were run on different types of milk, including pasteurized milk, ultra-high temperature (UHT) milk, yoghurt and mala. 50% of them tested positive for the presence of carcinogens.

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Campylobacter in chicken

The chicken contained tested were found to contain harmful bacteria, campylobacter. This bacteria causes bloody diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, abdominal pain, and fever. It can be fatal, especially in children and senior citizens.

It can almost be safely assumed that the food  Kenyans consume is partly to blame for the rates of cancer. In a recent expose by NTV’s Dennis Okari dubbed Red Alert, it was revealed that traders used harmful preservatives to keep the meat looking fresh to extend their shelf life.

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Last year, it was reported that sugar laced with heavy metals, including mercury had found its way to the Kenyan market. While it will not be easy to precisely pinpoint the reason behind the high cancer diagnoses in the country, it is possible that adulterated food items have something to do with it.

There has never been a better time for government agencies in charge of ensuring quality, Kenya Bureau of Standards and health inspectors, to crack the whip and up their game when it comes to guaranteeing only quality food items find their way into the market.

ILRI has made the following clarification with regard to these findings:

“There is no agreement on the acceptable level of aflatoxin in milk. For
example, although nearly half the samples in our study were outside the
EU limits, nearly all were within the USA limits. Aflatoxins are at the
levels we have found in Kenyan milk are not especially concerning in
terms of their known impact on human health. Risk assessments that show
that, in Kenya, the risk of aflatoxin in milk to human health is

In fact, many commonly eaten foods contain small amounts of carcinogens:
coffee, processed meat, nyama choma, beer. However, the risk is small
and most people are happy to eat these foods. It is unlikely they will
personally suffer as a result. There is no such thing as zero risk or a
completely safe food.

There are, however, several things that parents can do to protect their
children from food-borne diseases. While aflatoxins are not especially
concerning from the perspective of known health impacts, all raw animal
products have some risk of containing things that can harm health such
as campylobacter bacteria. We recommend that parents boil their milk
before consuming it, as well as cook their meat properly and reduce
contact between raw meat and other foods.

Kenya’s dairy and poultry sectors are great success stories; they
provide livelihoods to hundreds of thousands of farmers and traders and
have contributed enormously to the health and well-being of children
country-wide. Milk and meat help children grow tall and have good brain
development. Avoiding them would have many bad health effects.

We continue to do our part to monitor food safety here in Kenya and are
actively working on research projects to make the food safer together
with other partners.”

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