MAKERERE – It is a common practice here for people to wrap foodstuffs in newspapers and recycled papers with black carbon ink. Now experts have warned that the habit is dangerous as it may lead to cancer.
In a study, Prof Charles Muyanja, a specialist in Food Microbiology and the head of Food Safety at Makerere University Department of Food Science and Technology, said most inks used in newspaper printing are not food grade.
“Food grade ink is made of reagents that are safe on foods and have no suspected health danger. These include inks used in stamps for meat certification in abattoirs,” Muyanja said.
Muyanja observed that foodstuffs adulterated by newspaper ink raise a lot of health concerns since the ink contains multiple bioactive materials with known negative health effects.
“The ink mixes with the oil that upsets the stomach and causes great distress to the body. Body weakness and fever are common amongst people who end up consuming ink. If this does not stop, it ultimately leads to cancer,” Prof Muyanja said.
Research has shown newspaper ink contains amoratic hydrocarbons and naphthylamine.
“These chemical reagents,” the Makerere researcher says, “are suspected to cause lung and bladder cancer among people with long term exposure to newspaper inks,” he said, adding, “the type of materials used to manufacture newspapers are medically unhealthy.”
Newspapers are made out of recycled materials therefore it becomes easy for the greasy food to absorb the black carbon ink and other chemical ingredients due to direct contact.
Prof Muyanja noted that with the increase in unregulated small foods and snacks producers operating in the confines of their houses and stores, other risky practices such as using newspapers as cooking oils absorbents, are common.
The practice of wrapping foodstuffs in newspapers is common with roadside food vendors dealing in deep-fried snacks. While there are some people who use newspaper as drug pouches or envelopes, although Prof Muyanja said for drugs, the risks of contamination are minimal.
Muyanja advises that it is good practice to carry one’s own food carriers, where you can safely keep your snacks, which must be bought hot.