DR Daleth Agbodaze provided The Statesman with a report about the comparative level of infectious microbes carried by khebabs sold in kiosks, streetside and at drinking spots. Known types of enteric pathogens that can give diarrhea and other pathogenic microbes that lead to chronic and contagious illnesses were discovered by Dr. Agbodaze and his team of four other bacteriologists based at Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research.
30 specimens of khebab sold at different chop spots around town: in Osu, in Nima-Kotobabi and in Adabraka (published in the Ghana Medical Journal June 2005). Quoting excerpts from the report:
“Samples from Osu had the highest total plate count of mesophilic bacteria growing on the plates . . . Samples from Accra Central locations recorded the highest mean coliform count . . . and the highest faecal coliforms, as compared to lower counts” of pathogenic microbes (sieve-like or comb-like in appearance under the microscope) discovered “in samples bought in Osu and Nima.” In Osu, the mean average bacteria counts on plates were5.02, in Accra Central the count was 4.08 and those of Nima averaged 4.8. Different relative averages were discovered for coliforms and faecal coliforms.
The team inferred that these types of bacteria “could be attributed to the extent to which the samples were exposed to the immediate environment and the handling procedures followed by the individual khebab vendors.”
They recorded that the types of contaminating bacteria found were “E. coli, other gram-negative bacteria and Staphyloccus species whose virulence factor(s) are yet to be determined . . .
“If the count of bacteria on the plates is less than 5.0 log10 cfu/g and the coliform counts are less than 3.0 of the same units, then the khebab is a low risk to the consumer. Anything higher than these counts is risky. We carry these bacteria in our gut all the time,” so it is not an absolute that ingesting them will cause illness.
“The main symptoms of food-borne infection/intoxication include nausea, vomiting, colic and diarrhea.”
The most common bacterial agents worldwide are the Camplyobacgters, Salmonellae, certain strains of E. coli and Clostridiae. Variation is wide from country to country in the food handling environment, “food production, processing, distribution” and relevant lifestyle factors.
“Illness caused by the consumption of contaminated food, could be the result of the pathogenic organisms or from the presence of toxic chemicals,” wrote Agbodaze et al.
The researchers note that an earlier study (2001) recorded 15 and 14 different types of bacteria in raw beef and raw chevron samples, respectively, of slaughtered meat at the old Accra slaughterhouse, the Accra abattoir and a typical traditional slaughterhouse. But without certainty regarding the methodologies used in various studies, no definitive time related conclusions can be drawn.
However it is possible to ingest Salmonellae and bacteria that lead to typhoid without noticing any symptoms immediately, until ten days after ingestion of the contaminated food. Spoiled meat that is highly seasoned may not taste bad although it is making you sick. Without antibiotic treatment, typhoid can eventually be fatal.
Infection from unhygienic food can originate from either humans handling the meat or from the animals slaughtered, according to the report. The Staphyloccus bacteria are carried on the hands of vendors. It cannot be eliminated entirely as it grows in the glands and hair follicles of humans. The scientists urged that road side vendors be advised to wash their hands with soap and water to help reduce the risk of food-borne infection by their customers.
Deterioration of meat begins soon after slaughtering the animals. Freshly slaughtered animals may harbour few bacteria. But the surface of the meat in some cases is exposed to contamination during the slaughter and afterward. Sanitation, proper refrigeration and proper handling of meat can minimize microbial activity and contamination.
Contrary to expectation, the khebabs sold in Nima “recorded the lowest mean coliform count and mean faecal coliform count as compared to” . . . those khebabs sampled in Accra Central and Osu, even though Nima is “a community known for its overcrowding and is regarded to have unhygienic surroundings.” The researchers suggest that “[o]ne possible explanation for these . . . results could be that khebab produced by the vendors at Nima were bought and consumed readily, on the same day as it was prepared, so that left-over khebabs were not kept for re-heating and sale on the following day. We have not analysed the components that these vendors used for the seasoning of the meat prior to processing. They may also have some effect on the bacterial load.” Another factor is thickness of the meat cuts undergoing the grilling. Thinner slices are more likely to receive the heat penetration sufficient to lower microbial load