At least 10 people were last week arrested by a combined team of Kampala Capital City Authority and Uganda National Bureau of Standards officials following reports that they were using potentially dangerous chemicals to preserve meat and fish on sale.
The issue was immediately picked up on social media with many Ugandans expressing concern about the quality of food they are consuming.
Many people are particularly concerned about the alleged use of formalin, a chemical used in the preservation of dead bodies, to drive away flies in markets across the country.
Some of the suspects have been convicted after they pleaded guilty to these offences. Yet this is not the first time such reports have come up and may not be the last.
In November, similar reports surfaced to the effect that some chemicals were being used to catch grasshoppers (nsenene). Typically, the concerned authorities did not pick this matter up for serious investigation.
It is, indeed, shocking that all this long, authorities have not made it a point to consistently clamp down on unscrupulous food sellers or those who operate in terribly unhygienic places.
Meat, fish and nsenene aside, most foods consumed in Ugandan homes pass through many dirty hands, surfaces and processes.
Cases of contaminated milk are well documented. Tomatoes are doused in chemicals to make them last longer on the shelves. Beans, peas, maize and groundnuts are often treated with unspecified chemicals to drive away weevils and termites.
Fruits are openly displayed on dirty surfaces for sale. Animals for slaughter are transported in the most inhumane conditions, compromising the meat quality in the process. Meanwhile, on the farms, chicken and livestock are subjected to all types of antibiotics to keep diseases at bay.
While some of these chemicals might be harmless, truth is we don’t know the short, medium and long-term effect they might have on our health. The food business is too important to be left in the hands of farmers and traders alone, without tight regulation and supervision.
To bear fruit, the recent efforts of KCCA and UNBS should be maintained and amplified. Let this crackdown not be a one-off, but the beginning of a conversation on how we can clean up our food industry for the good of our heath.