NIGERIA – Scientists from the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) have during a research discovered hazardous levels of  camphor in street vended fufu and fried rice, which might be the cause of ailments among consumers.

Camphor sometimes referred to as mothballs are white, volatile, small balls that are used either as pesticides or insecticides. Naphthalene is the main ingredient in camphor in Ghana and has frequently been used in the purification of water.

When naphthalene melts from solid into the gaseous state, it produces a strong pungent odour which is toxic to moths and other insects.

This study published in the Polycyclic Aromatic Compounds Journal (Taylor&Francis) aimed to assess the occurrence of camphor in the street vended foods through the handling practices of the vendors. Naphthalene was detected in all food samples used for the study in concentrations ranging from 1.7 to 6.5 mg kg−1.

The concentration of camphor was as high as 6500mgkg in rice and hot pepper sauce samples, according to MyJoyOnline.

The researchers explained that the high levels of Naphthalene could be attributed to the use of camphor, which the vendors put in stored water as water purification agent or use as insect repellent in storage rooms.

Stored water containing moth balls were used for all cooking and vending processes such as boiling of rice for fried rice meal or storage of excess cassava used for fufu. It is also used in soup preparation for fufu meal.

“Eliminating the use of camphor in water and finding alternative means of storing water, would greatly reduce the health risk associated with these street vended meals,” said Gloria Mathanda Ankar-Brewoo, the Lead Scientist.

The scientists recommended that policies be reviewed on the use of moth balls at food preparation areas.

Public urged to desist from unorthodox uses of naphthalene

Under the mandate of the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) Ghana, naphthalene balls are classified as household chemical substances for repelling insects.

A case study in 2019 published in the journal of Pan African Medicine, found that Naphthalene can cause acute kidney injury. Some other effects include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, and diarrhea; neurologic symptoms, such as confusion, excitement, and convulsions.

The FDA has therefore asked the public to desist from the unapproved use of naphthalene balls and adhere to only the approved use as a household chemical substance solely approved for repelling insects and pests.

Keeping this in mind, the regulator will continue to partner with relevant institutions in the sensitization of the public on both the appropriate use and harm that may result from the abuse of camphor to safeguard the health and safety of the consuming public.

It is also enforcing the recently introduced Street Food Vending Permit initiative intended to closely monitor the preparation, packaging and storage of street foods, in a bid to ensure that no chemical contamination occurs and there is strict adherence to Good Hygienic Practices (GHP) at all times.

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