KOFI ESSEL, head of the food inspectorate division of the Food & Drugs Board (FDB), has advised pregnant women, nursing mothers and the aged, especially people whose immune system is impaired, to stop eating from polythene bags, because of health-related hazards.
It is believed that eating from polythene can cause stomach cancer, even though others disagree.
Speaking to DAILY GUIDE in Accra, Mr Essel said Ghanaians’ non-observance of health precautions had exposed them to poisonous chemicals like fertilizers.
“It is a common sight to see children and even adults feeding themselves directly from polythene bags in most communities in Ghana.
“It is obvious that this act is not appropriate since you are likely to get particles of the polythene into the food which will virtually be transferred into the mouth, especially those who squeeze the food from the rubber into the mouth,” he emphasised.
Mr Essel explained: “Most people are careless or ignorant of the health implications of this act. Chemicals from polythene often leach into foods, which it is used to package, especially cooked oily foods which can easily dissolve such chemicals from the polythene into the food”, adding that it had serious health implications on the consumers.
A lecturer from the Department of Nutrition and Food Science at the University of Ghana, Legon, who pleaded anonymity, called on manufacturers to educate the populace on the right use of polythene for specific foods, adding it should also be indicated that polythene bags were meant to protect the food till it was transferred into a bowl.
“The issue has to do with the time-temperature relation because it also depends on the duration the food is kept in the polythene bag and the temperature of the food.”
She stated that polythene bags were manufactured under 150 to 200 degree Celsius and that the heat in most food was around 60 degree Celsius so it was difficult for chemicals to be released into the food. However, this does not support eating from polythene bags because it is meant for packaging.
She additionally said people should eat from bowls since polythene bags mostly littered the environment. However, Dr Kwaku Kyeremeh, a lecturer at the Chemistry Department of the University of Ghana, Legon, said there was no problem with eating from polythene bags only if they were of food-grade quality.
Currently, there is no real data or research on the harmfulness of polythene used in packaging cooked foods. Dr Kyeremeh advised people to eat from polythene which had added plasticizers and were properly certified to be of food-grade quality.
Bushiratu Ayuba, a ‘waakye’ seller, said whenever she saw people squeezing food from the polythene bags into their mouth, she stopped them, especially female porters and ‘trotro’ drivers.
Herbert, a physiology student at University of Ghana, also said polythene bags were made up of carbon compounds and therefore when particles got into the stomach, they could cause stomach cancer.