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To Eat “Koobi” Or Not To Eat
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There is nothing as suicidal as being told that a meal or a particular food one has enjoyed for years has been laden with poison. What do you do when faced with a problem of the sort? End it all before it tears you apart in gradual stages or go and have a thorough stomach wash, if there is anything like that.

But whether there is something like total cleansing of the stomach or not, that certainly was a feeling a friend had when she called me about an unfortunate news she had heard on Monday about “koobi,” one of her delicacies. “Koobi” is a type of slated fish used by many as a food enhancing flavour in cooking local sauces and soups. My friend enjoys it to a fault, sometimes eating it as an accompaniment with boiled green plantain and spinach. She makes sure she tightly packs a bit of it when travelling overseas for a period of time.

And so this week, “koobi,” became one of the hot news items not in any kitchen but on our airwaves, on social media and in print. It has been discussed extensively with the focus line mostly on the unfitness of the dried salted fish known in local parlance as “koobi,” for human consumption.

Preservation with formalin

It all started when Professor Kwabena Frimpong-Boateng, the Minister of Environment, Science, Technology and Innovation, an accomplished heart surgeon, is reported to have warned fish mongers to stop using a chemical called formalin to preserve the “koobi” since it is found to be injurious to human health.

The heart surgeon is reported to have said that formalin, a chemical used for preserving corpses, can cause cancer and other life threatening diseases when consumed in any food including the salted dried fish, “koobi.”

To further argue his point, the Minister explained that the ‘koobis” of recent times do not attract flies as in the past when no chemicals, apart from salt, was used to preserve the dried fish. He said that today, “koobi” gets very stiff because of the formalin used in preserving it. He further explained that in times past when “koobi” was preserved only with salt, the fish was softer and attracted flies.

Worrying times

This is worrying information, if it is true that some sellers are using this formalin, a chemical used in preserving corpses to preserve “koobi” for human consumption. Serious action needs to be taken and any culprits found should be dealt with accordingly. Why would anyone think that they could make money at the expense of other people’s health?

We live in very dangerous times, as if the health of fellow citizens can be traded with. Health lost is health never to be regained in most cases. The love for money has completely taken over the love for fellow human beings to the extent that we care less about the harmful effects of our actions on others, even if it means poisoning them for as long as we get what we want—money. A very unfortunate posturing which must be stopped.

Or maybe those who are buying the chemical have no idea that it is the same chemical used to preserve dead bodies in the mortuary. And so, in blaming the sellers, one should also look for and charge the state agency that is allowing such a chemical to be out there in the public space. Does the Pharmaceutical Council not have restrictions on drugs and chemicals that can be sold over the counter and in the open market?

Chemicals being applied

What a care little and unsafe society we live in. Lawlessness in the midst of plentiful laws, we have refused to work within the boundaries of the law where necessary. We have chemicals as dangerous as acid selling cheap in the open and people are using it to harm and even kill others and we seem to look on and not license its use.

Not long ago, there was hue and cry in this country about red palm oil sold in some parts of the country and which was allegedly mixed with another dangerous chemical, Sudan Red Dye, a colouring of some sort used to improve the redness of palm oil. We did not even know about it as a country until some palm oil exports into Britain were seized and tested. It was at that point that our Food and Drugs Authority got wind of it and started raising alarms locally.

Without the active vigilance of our agencies, and with virtually no active consumer protection laws, we are doomed with what is out there in our markets and on our shop shelves for human consumption.

We have had so much said about unsafe additives to some basic foods consumed on daily basis. Alarms have been raised in this country on the unsafe use of a bakery agent used by bakers and which caused panic for bread consumers. There have been cautions in some circles about unsafe colouring in some tomato paste and another agent used in the cooking of jollof rice to brighten the colour. How many times have we not been warned about dangerous agents being added to pepper powder and groundnut paste sold in our markets to give them appeal?

I heard from a source quite recently that the apple sellers on our streets all use formalin to preserve the apples and hence always kept fresh and green even though the apples stay in the sun sweating in plastic packaging. Unfortunately, coconut sellers are also said to be using the same formalin chemical to preserve their coconuts fruits, hence some of them stay green on the outside even though they may have been harvested from days and weeks ahead.

Consumer protection

Are there no truths about all these claims and how is the consumer being protected? Where do the Food and Drugs Authority and the Food Research department stand in all these? Do they ever investigate these claims and what education are they giving us the consumers?

Unfortunately, the noise about the poisonous “koobi” being sold to unsuspecting consumers on daily basis is gradually dying down. Before long, we would have forgotten about it and returned to business as usual. I bet active consumption of stiff “koobi” will soon begin once all the talk has ended.

And as we have seen in other claims of poisonous chemicals added to food items to enhance their appeal, nobody would have been brought to book by the end of the week. One can bet on one’s last pesewa that no arrests would have been made, after all, we live in a free society where each one is for him or herself. Life must go on and the question would have been left unsolved as to whether to eat “koobi” or not to.

Source: Today

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