TANZANIA – The widely reported claim that some people were using chemicals for embalming dead bodies to preserve fish has prompted the Tanzania authorities to take a strong stand, maintaining that all fish products are safe and suitable for human use.

Abdallah Ulega, the Deputy Minister for Livestock and Fisheries, made the statement in the August House in response to a follow-up question from a Special Seats Member of Parliament Cecilia Paresso (CHADEMA).

The MP demanded that the government issue a statement regarding rumors that some business people in some regions were using chemicals for preserving dead bodies to preserve fish.

In her question, Ms. Paresso argued that she had learnt from the media that preservation of fish in some areas in the country was being done via undetermined chemicals, something that was bringing unnecessary tensions to consumers.

“As I speak right now, I don’t know what people should do to avoid fish that have been preserved in that style because we are informed that they are likely to cause cancer to consumers,” she said.

Even though the Vice President’s investigations, led by Dr. Philip Mpango, are yet to be concluded, Mr. Ulega maintained that there was no reason for concern.

When visiting the Mwanza Region earlier this week, Vice-President Dr. Philip Mpango gave the go-ahead to investigate and, if there were any indications of the much-touted rumors, to take severe action against those responsible.

The VP urged regulatory organizations to stop using such preservatives since they were detrimental to consumers’ health and were linked to the rising number of cancer cases in the Lake Zone.

“I call upon all people who use such preservatives for dead bodies to stop immediately, such practice is dangerous to people’s health. Current statistics show that cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the world,” he said.

Additionally, he urged more study in the field in order to obtain information that would aid the government in its fight against the sickness, promising that the government would provide Tsh 500 million (US$ 216,964) to fund the research.

According to the VP, 42,000 new cases of cancer are reported in Tanzania each year, making it one of the world’s leading causes of death.

Formalin as an adulteratant

Formalin, also known as formaldehyde, is a common adulterant in fish used by traders and suppliers to extend the storage life of fresh or chilled fish and artificially improve the sensory attributes.

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) of WHO classifies formaldehyde as “carcinogenic to humans”, with sufficient evidence for causing nasopharyngeal cancer in humans.

Ingesting large amounts of formaldehyde can generally cause severe abdominal pain, vomiting, coma, renal injury and possible death.

As a safety precaution, consumers are advised to wash all food thoroughly with running tap water, as formaldehyde is soluble in water and washing can aid its removal to a larger extent.

They should also thoroughly cook fish to an internal temperature of 75°C or above, as heat from cooking can also aid the removal of formaldehyde, because it is a volatile. Also, check the flesh to see whether it has turned opaque and can be separated easily.

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