Due to the incessant power shortages in the country, it is being reported that butcheries are now resorting to the use of embalming chemicals. These chemicals help preserve the meat and keep it from decaying due to ailing cold chain management. The local power situation has become extremely unstable with things supposedly improving at one moment and suddenly taking a plunge the next moment. Aside from the erratic supply of power, the cost of electricity has sharply gone up plus with a new framework where electricity tariffs are now reviewed monthly. Presently, the most expensive unit of electricity (i.e. when you surpass the 200 units mark in a month) is now pegged at roughly ZWL$4.10. Recently there were outcries in some areas when power was switched off at 1 am (just 3 hours after bring brought on). On average, most areas only have electricity for just a paltry 6 hours a day. It is scenarios like these that are affecting business players especially those whose products heavily depend on cold storage.

FORMALIN AND OTHER PRESERVATIVE METHODS

If you had never heard of this term then lately you might have come across it. Formalin is a compound chemical comprising preservatives and is commonly used for preserving human corpses in mortuaries. Its purpose is to delay the onset of decomposition on dead biological bodies such as humans and animals. This is the very chemical that is reportedly being used in some butcheries to preserve meat owing to power challenges. A local newspaper reports that one butchery business owner admitted to using the chemical. This business owner had adopted that approach based on a tip from someone else. This insinuates that this may be happening on a much grander scale than is apparent.

It has also emerged that some players are applying a mixture of water and sodium metabisulfite (basically soda water) on meat. The effect this has on meat is that it maintains the rich red colour and a fresh-looking impression. Some business players in the food industry even use it during cooking. Interestingly, it is also being reported that others are using steroid injections to increase the weight of the meat. This is being done either to live animals or actual packaged meat. This is not surprising especially when you consider that some butchery operators are purchasing sickly and low-weight cattle at very low prices. This also reminds me of some reports that some people are mixing anti-retroviral drugs (ARVs) with water and feeds ingested by livestock such as chickens to cause them to grow faster and big. The bottom line is that there appears to be a story in all this and the extent and reach might be colossal if proper investigations are done. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) has highlighted that they are already carrying out investigations.

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA – NOVEMBER 27: An employee prepares imported U.S. beef at a store on November 27, 2008 in Seoul, South Korea. The import of U.S. beef, which is sixty to seventy percent cheaper than Korean beef, had been suspended for 13 months due to the discovery of banned backbones in import shipments. (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

A BRIEF LOOK AT SOME MATTERS OF INTEREST

First of all, one might be wondering where people are easily getting formalin. Well, it turns out that they are getting it from mortuaries. It is being reported that they are buying it for as low as US$5. Considering that most people are always looking for a way to make a quick buck, those with access in mortuaries have found a new way to make some money.

As someone who consumes meat, you might have concerns about the effects of these chemicals on meat. It has been indicated by medical experts that formalin is easily detectable when applied in high amounts. This translates to it being used in moderately low amounts to avoid making its presence obvious. Technically, if that is the case then effects on the human body are not immediate i.e. when someone eats meat that has been embalmed with formalin. However, if consumption of the same becomes regular and prolonged it becomes a health hazard.

My solemn advice to everyone reading this is to exercise extreme caution when it comes to purchasing meat in general. I believe, based on research that I have done, that most of the health complications people are facing locally are stemming from food-related issues. Over-processed foods, imported foods, and food aid some of the foods that are riddled with issues of concern. From some observations that I have made in the past few months, there has been a meteoric rise in unexplained headaches across the country. This was even before the heat waves and all – I found it interesting that someone highlighted food aid as a possible cause. My point is, let us be very when it comes to what we eat. It is wiser to grow and produce your own food, wherever possible.