This week, the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) threw consumers into panic when it suspended the sale of some batches of cooking oil from 10 popular brands owned by Bidco Oil, Pwani Oil, Kapa Oil Refineries and Menengai Oil Refineries.
The standards agency said the products had fallen short of its standard for edible oils and fats identified as KS EAS 769: KS 2019 – with regards to the quantity of iron.
Kebs said its market surveillance and tests found that the brands had a high iron content beyond the recommended 2.5mg/kilogramme.
WHICH BRANDS WERE RECALLED?
Kebs said results from the tests on the specific batches found that iron content ranged between 4.6mg/kg-198.99mg/kg. The agency asked retailers to suspend the sale of the edible oils.
Bidco was ordered to recall Bahari Fry batch number 107921 and Olive Gold batch number 105948 and Pwani Oil four oil brands –Fresh Fri batch number FF1L17487D, Fresh Fri with Garlic batch number FF500175260, fry mate batch number 8941D and Salit batch number SS1L17472D.
Kapa Oil Refineries was advised to recall Postman of batch number 0210322B, Rina oils of batch number 0340522B, as well as Tilly cooking fat of batch number 152222A. Menengai was to withdraw its Top Fri oil of batch number OL4A3 MF9.25.05.22.
WHAT IS A BATCH?
It is a shift. It is usually eight hours of production. From a tonnage perspective it will be equal to 150 tonnes of the product. To recall and isolate 150 tonnes is not difficult because manufacturers produce more than 1,000 tonnes a day of various products. Production is a continuous process for any refiner. It is, therefore, hard to have one hour of production with high iron and then the rest of 23 hours with normal iron content.
WHY IS HIGH IRON CONTENT AN ISSUE?
Consumption of iron above the recommended dietary allowance of 16mg per day for men and 12mg per day for women can have repercussions such as liver damage, vomiting and diarrhoea as well as abdominal pain.
WHY WOULD A MANUFACTURER PREFER A HIGH LEVEL OF IRON IN EDIBLE OIL?
A high level of iron in edible oil also has an impact on the quality of the oil and its rate of deterioration. The higher the level of contaminant iron, the higher the frequency of trips to the shop to buy more edible oil.
HOW MUCH IRON DO YOU NEED IN A DAY?
The amount of iron you need is 8.7mg a day for men over 18, 14.8mg a day for women aged 19 to 50 and 8.7mg a day for women over 50.
WHERE DOES IRON COME FROM?
Iron is not manufactured. It comes from the soil through the fertilisers and so on. Palm oil [main raw materials] by its nature can only absorb a certain amount. Manufacturers claim that palm oil itself cannot sustain the 12mg/kilogramme levels of iron and wonder where it came from.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE TALKS BETWEEN KEBS AND MANUFACTURERS?
So far there is still no agreement. Manufacturers are insisting that they do a joint test with Kebs on grounds that they would like to make sure that the testing process and chemicals used are calibrated. However, Kebs is not so keen on a joint test. Manufacturers say they want to be part of the test because they don’t trust Kebs' results and have disputed them.
HOW CAN THE STALEMATE BE RESOLVED?
To resolve the impasse, after recalling the products from the shelves, Kebs could consider accepting the invite by the affected manufacturers to conduct a joint test and use the results to make a decision on the way forward.
The dispute could also end up in court, with either party seeking a settlement.
WHY ARE THE RECALLED PRODUCTS STILL ON SHELVES?
Retailers have started withdrawing of the suspended batches from the 10 brands. But a spot check done by the Business Daily shows the compliance remained very low five days after the Kebs' order. Supermarkets claim they delayed acting since they only received the official communication on the specific batch numbers to be removed on Monday.