Sunday, 8 January 2012

"Forbidden food" and Cancerous oil

forgive the title, feeling dramatic :D )

I enjoy eating things that I am not 'supposed' to: 'Forbidden Food'. This is probably because when I was in primary school (and J.S.S) my parents did not allow me to eat "outside food".
I went to St Theresa's in North Kaneshie but we lived at Cantonments, where there was almost no chance that I would encounter any of the 'banned' foods without supervision, but at North Kaneshie the waakye, yam and tsofi; the rice in leaves, kenkey, banku, etc - all prepared under unknown conditions were in abundance - so I guess I understand their trepidation.
I remember looking sadly at my classmates polishing off waakye, littered with colourful 'accessories,' in leaves or wolfing down kenkey, fish and  other accompaniments, but never participating in the festivities. Immediately, the bowl of cornflakes or weetabix or scrambled eggs&toast or whatever I had eaten for  breakfast would pale in comparison, becoming decidedly dull and unpalatable. Soon enough (when I finally shook off the belief that my dad had eyes on me everywhere) I grew teeth and began to eat the forbidden foods with relish.
Fast forward to the present, my favourite forbidden food is that unnaturally yellow yam with the  dangerously red tsofi from Nsawam. I honestly dunno what's wrong with me because I can feel disease oozing into my blood stream whenever I eat it.
You're wondering why you care right?
In September last year I read a news story about China's struggle with recycled oil. The Chinese authorities were clamping furiously down on restaurants which were reusing their oil. I was concerned for a day or two until some juicy donuts (read as bofrot) allayed my fears.
Mrs A (watcher of all news channels and avid follower of all health studies) called my attention to a news item on GTV, Station of the Nation on reused oil and the risks that it poses to health. Awurade angua na ashie sei!!! proper Black gold!
One woman actually said she used the black oil to make shito for better flavour!! 0_o (Runs to Aunty V for shito making lessons)

I'm very bothered; the oil they fry kelewele in at Labone junction usually looks dark to me, but I assumed it was because it's dark outside when I buy it. Now, think of the fish, meat or egg you buy with your favourite waakye or kenkey or banku ( i think only the fufu eaters are safe..for now)...maybe even the shito!  95% of the time that the oil will be recycled, simply because oil is expensive.

Apparently, reusing oil in itself is not bad, it just has to be done properly. (But my people must "over do", so you know we've crossed that line right, lol) The oil becomes potentially hazardous when the fat in the oil becomes rancid, if it deteriorates further then the oil becomes potentially carcinogenic - i.e. can cause cancer.

Various oils have different points at which they start to decompose (smoke point) and this point is lowered by factors such as:
  •  foreign matter in the oil (think of batter, the spices used to flavour kelewele, koose, donuts, kakro, tatale, bits and pieces breaking off etc) ; 
  • salt (most sellers sell gloriously salty meat) ; 
  • the temperature to which the oil was heated (picture those blazing hot logs of wood someone is always struggling to position and how she tries to avoid the smoke);  
  • exposure to oxygen and light (oxygen + open air= unavoidable and once the food is fried in the afternoon or morning they would fall into this bracket, right? most do -______- ); 
  • the length of time the oil remains heated (Gosh, I don't want to think about this one) ; and 
  • the number of times the oil was re-used ( I can't bear this one either).

It becomes clear that most of the stuff street vendors sell is potentially dangerous and most probably don't even know it. And if they were told, would be reluctant at best, to mend their ways due to the expense involved.
I  know many returnees have a mental, at times written, check list of food they have to eat whenever they are back in Ghana, perhaps to reassert their 'Ghanaian-ness', and I think almost each and everyone of them is linked in one way or another to rancid, potentially carcinogenic oil. Your favourite guilty/fatty pleasure might be linked to it too, so don't think this is someone else's problem.
The easy way out will be to stay off the streets and stick to restaurants, office canteens, patisserie s and other swanky eating places, right...? Movenpick and co all the way then, lol. I would like to assume the big hotels or chains probably adhere to some international standards and wouldn't want to 'disgrace themselves'.
(But it never tastes the same! not the  'proper' taste anyway *sobs*. Maybe the rancid oil truly has some flavour -_____- )
picture credit: Facebook kelewele group

But  what standards are there? (i'm asking, I don't know)  and how are they being enforced? We can't exactly go round asking the local kelewele seller questions like 'how long has her oil been exposed to light and oxygen?'...well you can, if you fancy a dressing down.  What I do know is there's most definitely a lack of monitoring mechanisms or checks and balances. So, if you see the black oil and buy from there na ese woara but if you don't see how the food is prepared , how do you know it is safe???

Let's hope African 'germs' are still truly friendly and haven't met and learnt from their foreign counterparts yet.