“We use paracetamol to cook meat for people to eat, especially all those cow legs that are hard to cook. We use it for goat meat pepper soup.” – Food Vendor
Five years after a post on social media alerted us to the use of paracetamol to soften meat, the practice is yet to be brought to an end.
Although during the last Christmas celebration, there was a renewed public concern over the issue, as many people became aware of the development, which necessitated the timely warning from the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) on the dangerous and unapproved use of paracetamol in food preparation.
However, the use of paracetamol for cooking is still ongoing, as the perpetrators claim it helps reduce the long hours of boiling meat, which assists them to meet up with the demands of customers, and it also saves them extra costs on kerosene/gas/charcoal.
A young mother revealed that a single tablet of paracetamol would soften meat in 10 minutes. Another user of paracetamol for cooking, who happens to be a food vendor interviewed by a Sun News reporter confessed to using paracetamol to fry fish. She said this will prevent the fish from scattering.
It appears that tough meat like cow legs is not the only thing that vendors cook with paracetamol. A recent YouTube video made known that it is also used to soften beans.
Since one sachet containing 12 tablets of paracetamol is sold for fifty naira, the affordability of paracetamol have emboldened this people to continue in the deadly practice.
Renowned Nigerian healthcare professionals have all deliberated on the development, noting that if the prolonged use of paracetamol as a pain-killer increases the risk of kidney and liver diseases, then using it for cooking meat, increases the risk of suffering the above diseases.
They further explained that when paracetamol is cooked, it no longer functions as a painkiller, it becomes something else – an acid. This harmful acid known as 4-aminophenol, will damage the liver, kidneys and can kill within days. The harmful effect is even more severe in alcoholics, people who are fasting and those who have pre-existing liver or kidney problems
That was why the President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria (PSN), Mazi Sam Ohabunwa declared that anyone found guilty of cooking with paracetamol should be brought to justice.
“…liver problem is on the increase [and] we don’t even know if people have been practicing this for a very long time for us to be having this increase in liver diseases; some unexplained liver failure, liver cancer are emanating.” – Dr. Ekpe Philips.
This is a true life story of a young man, Jonah (not real name). Jonah was a spirited young man with a lot of ambitions. During the last Christmas holiday, Jonah was having fun as his sister had just got married and he had just got an employment letter from an oil company. Life seemed to be going so well for him and his family.
But when the New Year came and Jonah had to resume work with his new employers, he couldn’t. He had woken up one morning swollen like a balloon. Something was wrong.
At the hospital, it was confirmed that he had acute kidney failure. Jonah’s life was falling apart. One week after his diagnosis, he gave in to the disease.
There was a strong suspicion that Jonah had been poisoned at his sister’s wedding. He ate and drank a lot of alcohol during the event, just like any happy brother would. His friends confirmed that his symptoms began within the same period.
His death has been attributed to many different causes, but what if Jonah was another undocumented casualty of paracetamol poisoning?
According to the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN), 25 million Nigerians are living with kidney failure. Experts are concerned that consuming meat cooked with paracetamol might be a major contributing factor.
To prevent these numerous avoidable deaths, NAFDAC has advised Nigerians to adopt alternative methods of softening their meat. Some of them are listed below:
- Use a pressure cooker to cook your meat quickly
- Beat the meat before cooking
- Slice the meat into smaller pieces
- Slow-cook the meat if you’re not in a hurry
- Soak the meat in salt-water for several hours. It is important that you rinse off the excess salt before cooking. High sodium content in salt has debilitating effects on hypertensive patients.
- Marinate in pawpaw or pineapple before cooking.
The risk of cooking meat with paracetamol has been emphasized severally. However, this will not make everyone change. It is up to you to protect your health and that of your loved ones. Take extra precautions when it comes to what you put into your mouth. As much as possible avoid roadside food vendors, restaurants with a poor reputation and supervise caterers that you hire to cook for your events.
NAFDAC has promised severe punishments for offenders. Members of the public have been encouraged to report any case of dangerous and illegal use of paracetamol in food preparations.
Here is a statement from the agency:
“Consumers are advised to report adverse events related to dangerous and illegal use of Paracetamol Tablets in food preparation to the nearest NAFDAC office, […] (0800-1-623322) TOLL FREE from all networks or via firstname.lastname@example.org ”
Final thoughts: If you or anyone you know is currently engaging in this dangerous act, for the sake of your health and that of others, please desist from it.