Opportunity in fresh fish ’embalming’ revelation

Rumours have made the rounds for years that fresh fish vendors use chemicals to keep their catch fresh. However, no one had ever provided proof… until now. The Malawi Bureau of Standards recently tested a batch of fresh fish following a customer complaint and found dangerously high levels of formaldehyde in them. Formaldehyde is a preservative primarily used in the preservation of biological specimens and corpses.

I was shocked by the story and left squeamish at the thought that I may well have partaken of contaminated fish. My immediate reaction was to start thinking of how I could grow my own food. My wife and I have already discussed the idea of rearing our own chickens and possibly rabbits for meat. I know a neighbour of ours has similar thoughts.

Long term solutions

But is this really the long-term solution? One can only raise so many birds at a time. And there is the monotony of only eating one or two types of food all the time. Add to that, in the past week a note has been making the rounds on WhatsApp claiming a vendor ‘in town’ was injecting his apples with some fluid. Similar claims have also been made in the past about bananas. The problem could potentially be widespread.

This got me thinking further. I can’t say for sure why vendors would put toxic preservatives in fish. I can only speculate though and when I did, lack of proper, affordable cold storage came to mind. Of course, ignorance and mischief can’t be ruled out either. But let us dwell on the former.

fresh fish

Solar refrigeration to preserve fresh fish

So far all the talk you hear from authorities since this story broke is their desire to deal with the culprits. I have not heard anyone, yet, talking about working on a scheme to provide fresh food vendors with some sort of easily accessible and affordable cold storage – portable solar fridges for the more mobile vendors and bigger cold rooms in markets for market vendors. Or something of that nature.

A quick Google search on solar fridges brings up a number of options from the expensive upmarket to the cheaper mass-produced. The options are not cheap and they are not locally available to your ordinary vendor. But this is where microfinance organisations, councils and other investors come in. Maldeco Fisheries could also do it for their retailers. Provide a way for vendors to access these products on credit.

That way the councils can develop a database of vendors and assign this equipment per specific location. Strict hygienic standards can be set and the Malawi Bureau of Standards can effectively monitor and regularly test the foods.

It also reduces pressure on vendors to sell their products at reduced prices as the day comes to an end because they will have nowhere to keep the food fresh overnight.

This is a better way to ensure consumers are kept out of preventable harm – provide better options which should naturally close down the market for, most likely, stolen formaldehyde.

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Austin Madinga's Life Unbound