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How safe is bread we eat!

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• Assessment Shows Bread Still Contains Potassium Bromate —Expert
• We Lack Power To Regulate, Sanction Bakeries — Master Bakers
• Application Of Potassium Bromate A Thing Of The Past — NAFDAC

The demand for bread has escalated the number of bakeries across the country. And though this development is coming with some advantages, such as consumers now able to choose from a wide variety and the possibility of healthy competition among bakers, there are concerns that some bread manufacturers are applying unwholesome practices for economic gains.

The Guardian observed that in Lagos, for instance, bread now comes in different labels, colours and shapes. The issue here is that no one is now sure what goes into the making of some of these brands, especially now that the campaign against potassium bromate seems to have subsided, a development already raising serious health concerns.

Another area of concern is the level of hygiene and environment, where bread is produced. Since the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and other monitoring agents seem to have relaxed in their duties, coupled with laxity on the part of health and environmental officers, the big question begging for answers from concerned consumers and health experts is: How safe is the bread we eat?The Guardian observed from some bakeries visited that majority in hidden and confined areas, where relevant stakeholders would be constrained from monitoring their activities.

A consultant Public Health Physician and Nutritionist at the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Folu Olatona, said a large percentage of bread consumed in the country is made in unhygienic conditions, which can lead to food poisoning.

She said: “Sometimes, the staff in charge of handling the bread may wear dirty uniforms, or the bread is handled with dirty hands or placed on unclean surfaces or cleaned with dirty foam before being put in the nylon wrap. This improper handling could cause food poisoning. Symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting and severe outcomes, such as seizures, brain damage or even death.

“Bread is nutritious, as it contains several nutrients, including carbohydrate, protein and fat. However, it is not healthy to consume white bread made from white flour frequently. White flour is refined grain, which contains refined carbohydrates. Refined carbohydrates like white bread releases sugar speedily into the bloodstream and the surplus sugar tend to be stored as fat in the body. This can in turn lead to obesity, which increases the risk for many non-communicable diseases, including hypertension, diabetes and cancer.”

The National Treasurer, Association Of Master Bakers And Caterers Of Nigeria, Evang. Josiah Oluyinka Adejare, who confirmed the influx of different brands of bread into the market, lamented that his organisation lacks the power to regulate or sanction majority of the bakeries, because they are not registered members of the association.He said: “There are now different types of bakeries in the state— mushroom bakeries, eateries, industrial bakeries and the local bakeries. We are the local bakeries, adhering to government’s policies and obeying the rules. We have been fighting this issue for a very long time, but have recorded no tangible result. Because there is freedom of association, the bakers have refused to join us and government gives them more recognition because they have money. The development is forcing our people out of business, as many have closed shop, while others are selling their equipment. We have informed the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), but nothing is being done till now.”

Although he couldn’t give the actual figure of bakeries in Lagos State, Adejare noted that about 5,000 bakers are in the association.He said: “To achieve set targets effectively, our association has a monitoring team. We also have a Task Force in each local government area that monitors production process of bread, which was part of the reason we were recognised by the Federal Government. For instance, on the issue of potassium bromate, we don’t give our members any room to use any additive that is not in conformity with government’s guidelines, likewise in terms of hygiene.”

Dr. Damilola Akinsulire, Consultant Public Health Physician at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), said efforts must be made to ensure that the process of making bread is done in hygienic conditions and its ingredients safe for consumption.She said: “A popular additive used in flour to strengthen dough and enable it to rise in recent past was potassium bromate, which also gives baked bread an appealing white colour. But its usage has been linked with cancer and, therefore, the use of bromate is now banned in many countries.

“In Nigeria, the use of potassium bromate in bread was banned by NAFDAC in 2004. But recent published studies and researches on assessment of bread safety in the country showed that bread consumed in the country still contains potassium bromate, an indication that compliance with regulations is still low.“Apart from the carcinogenic effect of potassium bromate, it has also been implicated in cough and sore throat, when inhaled, kidney failure, breakdown of the nutritional quality of bread by its ability to degrade vitamins A2, B1, B2, E and niacin, which are the main vitamins available in bread.”

She explained that the chemical has also been reported to cause abdominal pain, diarrhoea, nausea, vomiting, hearing loss, bronchial and ocular problems.“Some studies have linked potassium bromate to nephrotoxicity and hepatotoxicity,” she said. “It is important for bakers to know that there are basically two ways by which humans get poisoned with potassium bromate: by ingestion, when it is present in food such as bread, and by inhalation.

“It is, therefore, not safe for the bread consumer and the factory worker, who works in a bakery where the substance is used as bread improver. So, regulatory authorities should continue to raise awareness, ensure constant monitoring and enforce strict compliance in order to ensure that bakers always comply with rules and regulations.

Director, Special Duties, NAFDAC, Dr. Abubakar Jimoh, said the agency is working round the clock to ensure that in the area of hygiene, Nigerians, especially in rural areas, are enlightened.

He said: “We are planning to organise workshops to educate the people. It is not just about the bakers, but the attitude of people generally towards hygiene. So, we are making efforts to create awareness.”Jimoh noted that feelers received by the agency, coupled with Masters Bakers Association’s cooperation have been encouraging, which suggest that application of potassium bromate is a thing of the past.

“There is a very high level of compliance, he said. “But if some bakers are still using bromate, it is not to our knowledge.“NAFDAC is a scientific organisation and we have our officers on the field, who are working together with bakers to ensure strict compliance.“What we did in the past, when the issue of bromate usage in bread was rampant, was to solidify and strengthen the union membership. In other words, we made it mandatory that all master bakers must form a union, so that there would be self-control and regulations in terms of code of conduct.

“Before NAFDAC came in 1993, there was no master bakers association. We introduced it across the country, to instill discipline and decorum. The body is represented in all states.”He said the use of potassium bromate is a sin for any baker and punishable, because of the health consequences arising from its use.


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Folu OlatonaNAFDAC
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