Drug Use: One Year After, How Aware Is Bauchi About The Danger Of Using Paracetamol As Meat Tenderizer?
Charly Agwam FASLN
It's been a year or so since the exposé on how fast food joints in Nigeria use drugs like paracetamol to tenderize meat in order to shorten cooking time, especially for cooking beef and other edibles that require long cooking hours.
The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration (NAFDAC) and several healthcare professional associations have reacted by warning that the toxicity released as a result of cooking paracetamol could damage human organs like the liver and kidneys.
According to the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN), about 25 million Nigerians are living with kidney failure. Experts are therefore concerned that consuming food cooked with paracetamol might be a major contributing factor.
While the use of paracetamol as meat tenderizer and its inherent dangers are now a commonplace knowledge for urban dwellers, findings suggest that many people, especially in rural Bauchi are barely aware of the dangers of - and still cook beef with paracetamol.
This report is the second in a three-part story series on drug-use which was sponsored by the African Science Literacy Network (ASLN), to bridge the gap in science communication and raise awareness about the importance of science misconceptions in Bauchi.
In a poll conducted across ten selected local government areas of Bauchi state, about 69 percent of 325 people interviewed said they were unaware of such practice. However, seven out of ten food canteen owners confessed in confidence that they had used paracetamol as tenderizer at least once.
One of the food canteen owners, Aisha Idris (not real name) told ASLN fellow, Charles Agwam in Bununu, the headquarters of Tafawa Balewa local government area of Bauchi State, that she never knew that using paracetamol as tenderizer was injurious to health.
She confided in our Fellow that she started using paracetamol to reduce cooking time of beef from thirty minutes to ten minutes since one of her friends introduced her to the method two years ago.
"This sounds like news to me. I have never heard about it. You know, a friend introduced me to this method of softening beef two years ago. Although, I only use it to cook cow legs, I am frightened by this revelation. I will stop it henceforth because I don't know how much I have exposed myself, my family and community to danger. I hope others get to hear about this so that they can save themselves and their communities too," she said.
On the other hand, several unsuspecting people; those who patronize food canteens and those who do not, said they were hearing of such practice for the first time. They called for creating awareness, especially in rural areas.
"Although we don't usually patronize outdoor food vendors in this part of the country, it is still good to let people know such a thing like cooking meat with paracetamol exists," Isa Ali said. "I know they use potash to quickly soften meat but I've never heard of using paracetamol for cooking. It's really scary how people want to make money by all means."
Dr. Moshin Adekeye, a medical doctor with a private hospital in Bauchi who lamented the rate of liver and kidney failure in the country, suggested that consumption of meat cooked with paracetamol might be a contributing factor.
Adekeye said, "Almost on daily basis, patients walk in with liver or kidneys problems. Who knows if this act of cooking meat with paracetamol has something to do with the spike. The authorities must swing into action to stop the menace. Food vendors can not be killing people in the name of making money."
The NAFDAC Director General, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye while reacting to the exposé, had said she was shocked to learn that Nigerians use paracetamol to cook while warning that that it is a dangerous practice that could cause severe organ damage in people.
"Paracetamol is Acetaminophen but when heated, it changes to para aminophenol, which is toxic to the kidneys and liver. An individual can take up to four grammes of paracetamol in one day. You can take 500mg, which is usually high strength, or even double of that but all should be for short time.
“But for someone to use it for cooking is unheard of. It is the toxic by-product of paracetamol that people consume when they eat food that was cooked with the drug. What even worries me more is that they are not just taking it for one or two days, it has become part of their regimen for cooking. Cooking with paracetamol requires hot temperature. Usually, whenever we are taking a test to see how a drug will be released when taken, we use very warm water. Heat breaks it down to all those byproducts that are dangerous and toxic.
“What we eat could make us depend on medicine for the rest of our lives. When you compromise your kidneys or liver, you have to continue using medicine. People shouldn't be endangering their lives just because they want to eat soft meat or cow leg. Using paracetamol to cook is like setting ourselves up for early graves, because once the kidneys and liver stop functioning, other organs would collapse too," the DG warned.
Although this article focuses on the use of paracetamol as tenderizer for meat, it is worthy of note that for several years spanning many decades, Nigerian families have depended on potash for shortening cooking time.
But recent findings by Bankole J.K. et al (2015) revealed that potash (kaun) is cytotoxic to the kidney tissues of rats. It further suggested that excessive consumption could lead to severe and irreparable damage to the kidney and negatively affect normal body functions and may even lead to death.
In the list of alternatives to using paracetamol, NAFDAC recommended the use of pressure cooker to cook meat quickly, beating meat before cooking, and slicing meat into smaller pieces.
Other options among others include; slow-cooking of meat, soaking of meat in salt-water for several hours (for non-hypertensive patients) and marinating meat before cooking.
While the DG of NAFDAC seemed poised to increase surveillance and sensitisation campaign to alert Nigerians to the danger of the unethical practice, it appears though, that rural people, especially in Bauchi have been left out.
Bankole, J.K., Ngokere, A.A., Ajibade, O.M., Igunbor, C.M. and Eloka, C.C.V., 2015. Degenerating effects of potash (Kaun-K2CO3) on the kidney: Unabated continental challenge to human health in Nigeria. Annals of Biology Research, 6(3), pp.12-18.