KENYA – The Kenya Bureau of Standards (KEBS), a government organization responsible for certifying locally produced and imported commodities, has alerted Kenyans to a rice brand that is unhealthy due to high aflatoxin levels.

The national certification and standardization office issued a warning in a statement shared on its social media channels about the significant aflatoxin contamination of the Polla brand of rice, which is detrimental to human health.

The agency confiscated about 3000 bags of 25kg of Polla rice brand in the Shimanzi area. According to KEBS, the product is being imported into the country by Gama Food Traders Limited.

More information about the owners of the business and their country of origin has not yet been made public.

According to the seizure, some of the product is already in use, and some Kenyans may have accidentally consumed it.

Aflatoxins are a group of toxins made by Aspergillus species, primarily Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, and they contaminate grains and other nutritional staples like maize, rice, and groundnuts.

These fungi are widespread in agriculture and highly prevalent in tropical areas, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa and South East Asia, where hot, humid temperatures encourage fungal development on food crops.

When the weather conditions in the field, during harvest, handling, and storage become conducive for the growth of aflatoxins-producing fungus, rice may become contaminated.

The World Health Organization (WHO) cautions that prolonged or chronic exposure to aflatoxins can cause liver or kidney cancer, infant birth defects, and weakened immune systems.

Substandard rice is a growing concern

The sale of substandard rice has been widespread across the country.

In 2020, laboratory analysis of samples of rice sold in Nairobi, Mwea, and Thika showed that the popular food is highly-contaminated with the cancer-causing organisms.

The team collected and tested 98 samples from retail markets and millers in Mwea and Thika regions and found much of it is contaminated with aflatoxin-causing organisms.

Youmma Douksouna, the Lead Study Author, attributed the presence of aflatoxin in rice to poor handling and packaging, the sale of expired grains, and long periods of storage and transportation of imports.

In 2019, Busia County public health officials seized 256 sacks of contaminated rice.

KEBS issued a warning in a statement shared on its social media channels about the significant aflatoxin contamination of the Polla brand of rice, which is detrimental to human health.

The Government Chemist in Nairobi tested it and discovered it had excess moisture levels and unsafe for human consumption.

“Once moisture enters into rice it may lead to aflatoxin, a possible cause of cancer in humans. That is why we destroyed the rice,” Dr Isaac Omeri, Busia County Chief Officer for Health told The Standard at the time.

After maize and wheat, rice is the third most popular food in Kenya, and consumption is predicted to grow at a rate of 12% each year.

In comparison to the 112,800 tonnes of annual production, the estimated annual national rice consumption is 538,000 metric tonnes.

The predicted yearly national requirement could increase to 570,490 tons by 2030 with a population growth rate of roughly 2.7% per year.

The shortage caused by inadequate local production is filled in primarily by imports from Pakistan, Thailand, India, and Vietnam.

Douksouna told The Standard in an interview that “our investigations revealed imported rice, notably from Thailand, was substantially more polluted than locally-produced grains.”

In a prior study conducted in 2016, Diana Nyangaga, Dr. Michael Gicheru, and Prof. James Mbaria of the University of Nairobi had gathered 96 food samples from the Nairobi markets of Toi, Kawangware, Uhuru, Kangemi, and Nyamakima.

The majority of the rice samples had aflatoxin concentrations that were higher than the 20 parts per billion (ppb) maximum residue limit.

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