KENYA – A joint study by 5 research institutes has revealed that milk consumed in Kenya might be loaded with a mix of microorganisms, posing a threat to the public’s health.

The study by International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)-Kenya, Wageningen University and Research of the Netherlands, Uppsala University- Sweden, International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)-Vietnam and Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences was conducted in three counties of Nakuru, Laikipia and Nyandarua.

It revealed that out of 493 milk samples tested, 237 (47.9 per cent) were contaminated with Pseudomonas spp which can cause infections in the blood, lungs (pneumonia), or other parts of the body, while traces of Escherichia coli (abbreviated as E. coli) stood at 42.4 per cent (209 samples).

Some strains of E. coli are known to cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and other illnesses.

“The presence of these bacteria points a direct finger to bad handling and poor hygiene practices, because they indicate that the milk has been in contact with faecal matter.

“Pre-and post-harvest milk handling practices greatly influence contamination and subsequently milk quality and safety. The person handling this milk is either not storing it properly or is not washing hands after visiting the washroom,” the report states in part.

The study titled ‘Milk quality along dairy farming systems and associated value chains in Kenya: An analysis of composition, contamination and adulteration’ showed that 16.7 per cent of samples collected from farmers and a quarter of samples from vendors had been adulterated with water which can introduce contaminants and pathogens and poses a public health risk to consumers.

It was established that the food borne pathogens in the raw milk were derived from several areas including the interior of the udder, exterior surfaces of the animals, environment, milk-handling equipment and personnel.

Other prevalent harmful pathogens included Staphylococcus spp at 3.3per cent, while 2.9 per cent of the samples tested positive for brucellosis antibodies.

The study randomly recruited 50 owners of dairy farms from randomly selected centres in a cross-sectional study. It interviewed them using a pre-tested standardized questionnaire, as reported by Kenya News Agency.

Also considered for this study were farmers, informal collection centres, informal retailing centres and milk vending machines (ATMs), centralized formal bulking and cooling centres, formal bulking centres and collection centres run by informal bulking agents in all locations.

The researchers established that milk from mid-rural locations farming systems had higher levels of contamination by E. coli, Staphylococcus spp and tested positive for milk ring test (MRT) against Brucella abortus than milk from the other locations.

According to records from the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Kenya yields over five billion litres of milk per year and is the leading milk producer in the region. The dairy sector contributes to approximately 40 per cent of the livestock gross domestic product (GDP), 14 per cent of the agricultural GDP, and 3.5 per cent of the overall GDP in Kenya.

Smallholder dairy farmers produce about 75 per cent of Kenya’s total milk supply. Milk consumption rates in Kenya are among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa: between 50 and 150 Litre per capita per year.

Milk stored and transported under unhygienic conditions

The investigation revealed that milk in the informal value chain within the three counties was bulked by small-scale transporters at the sides of the road in unhygienic conditions exposing it to contamination by pollutants and insects.

Milk was transported using motorcycles in its unrefrigerated form in a warm environment, which could enable bacterial growth and lead to milk quality deterioration, says Kenya News Agency.

“In the formal, as well as the informal value chains, actors rarely used any protective clothing while handling milk as required by the public health regulations.

“Some actors operated without the required certificates such as public health certificates and milk movement certificates. In the informal value chain, actors had limited access to sanitation facilities, including toilets and hand washing facilities,” the findings indicate.

The study recommends urgent action by enforcement agencies at county and national levels, formal and informal vendors, farmers and milk value chain actors towards improving milk quality as high levels of microbial contamination of milk pose a public health risk to consumers.

The probe was part of the ‘Local and International business collaboration for productivity and Quality Improvement in Dairy chains in South East Asia and East Africa (LIQUID) project’ which is supported by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (NWO) Science for Global Development department (WOTRO) through the Food and Business Global Challenges Programme (GCP).

Liked this article? Subscribe to Food Business Africa News, our regular email newsletters with the latest news insights from Africa and the World’s food and agro industry. SUBSCRIBE HERE