Roast roadside meat: A highly nutritious but unsafe delicacy
Posted Sunday, October 27 2013 at 00:00
While most road travellers enjoy eating roast beef during their journey, they need to know how dangerous beef could be.
Frequent travellers will have come across or at least stopped by trading centres like Najjembe and Namawojjolo on Jinja road, Lukaya on Masaka-Mbarara highway or at River Kafu en route to Northern Uganda. The major attraction here is roast meat. To a hungry traveller, these places are like an oasis at the end of a long desert road.
However, roast beef is no longer just the thing one buys while on a long journey. It is increasingly the fast food of choice served at various roadside food spots in city suburbs and at evening markets in many trading centres. Street foods are appreciated for their unique flavours and convenience. To a certain extent, they assure food security for low income urban population and livelihood for a significant proportion of the population in many developing countries.
Not all beef is bad
While beef is often labelled an unhealthy food and while it is true that some cuts of beef contain high levels of saturated fat, not all things beef are bad. Beef has plenty of nutritional value. It is a rich source of protein, which the body needs to build muscle, maintain organs and regenerate skin, hair and nails. It is a good source of minerals like zinc, iron, selenium, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium and copper. Beef also supplies the body with vitamins B12, B6 and riboflavin, among others.
Although beef has a high nutritional value, the unsanitary conditions in which it is prepared, stored and served at the roadside, raises a question regarding its quality. This is in regard to how safe it is for consumption.
“Most roadside meat and ingredients are prepared in unhygienic conditions where dirty water may be used to wash hands, utensils and dishes where running water may not be readily available. Toilets and adequate washing facilities and refrigeration are also rarely available. Disinfection is not usually carried out and the meat is not effectively protected from flies and dust. These inappropriate processing methods that are used in the preparation and holding of meat as well as the poor personal hygiene of food handlers are some of the main causes of contamination of roadside meats leading to foodborne illnesses,” explains Catherine Tamale Ndagire, a graduate of food science.
According to Ndagire, chemical contamination of roadside meats can also occur as a result of exposure to motor vehicle exhaust gases that pollute the environment with lead. Excess lead can cause serious damage to the brain, kidneys, nervous system and red blood cells. Young children, infants and foetuses are particularly vulnerable to lead poisoning.
In some cases, roadside meat is substituted with rat, cat or dog meat, with some of the meat possibly containing traces of the poison used to kill the animal.
Although diarrhoea is the most common symptom of food-borne illness, serious consequences include kidney and liver failure, brain and neural disorders, and death. Most cases of food contamination are from common food bacteria like Streptococcus spp., Staphylococcus spp., Escherichia coli and Salmonella spp. If the meat is undercooked, it can infect consumers with parasites or Brucellosis.
There is also a possibility of grilled meat containing carcinogens-cancer-causing elements. Charred (burnt) meat commonly contains cancer-causing substances. When the meat is grilled, it produces chemicals known as Heterocyclic amines (HCAs), and exposure to HCAs can cause cancer. The longer the meat is grilled, the more HCAs produced.
The state of roadside hygiene and presence of multiple contaminants as described by the expert, illustrates why beef, a highly nutritious food can turn into a rather dangerous adventure when eaten from the roadside.