Study reveals cancer risk in Kaylite

HARARE - A study by the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) has revealed that Expanded Polystyrene (EPS) — popularly known as kaylite — which is used by many restaurants and food vendors to package meals and beverages, contains a substance that causes cancer.

The study was done by the UZ Food, Nutrition and Family Science department over a four-month period in which its researchers focused on three different types of foods, analysing how they reacted to the kaylite packaging.
Health and Child Care ministry is yet to comment on the findings of the study.

Standards Association of Zimbabwe (Saz) said its job was not to regulate but facilitating standards.

“Saz facilitates the development of standards and encourages the use of these standards to enhance Zimbabwe’s competitiveness and safeguard the welfare of communities,” Saz director-general Eve Gadzikwa told the Daily News.

“The association has a waste management standard but more should be done to educate people on different strategies to deal with solid waste, hazardous waste, to green the economy.”

UZ senior lecturers Batsirai Chipurura, Emilia Guchu and Lorraine Mitumbi found that reheating and refrigerating food in kaylites resulted in an increased migration of styrene to food, raising the cancer risk.

While plenty of previous research has linked individual pollutants to increased risks of specific types of cancer, the current study focused on how the use of kaylite as food packaging may influence the risk of tumours.

“Kaylites are made of expanded polystyrene and it is this styrene that is dangerous to the human health as it can cause cancer and disturb other organs in the human body.  And it can be transferred from the kaylites to the food under different conditions,” Chipurura told the Daily News in an interview.

He said they wanted to establish if the rate of movement of styrene increased with temperature and storage time.

“We got kaylite samples from three suppliers in Harare and all three of them contained 97 percent styrene.  We also conducted a research on three foods, oily foods, acidic foods and distilled water, for example tea.”

“We noted that the rate of movement from the kaylite to food was high as the temperature increased and this happens when you re-heat the food in the kaylite,” he said.

They also noted that even under refrigeration, even at five degrees celsius, there was high migration of styrene, especially in oily food, and this happens just after 30 minutes.

“We wanted to educate people on these findings, so that the people have better information. We are working to have it published in the journal of food packaging and shelf life in three months’ time.

“We suggest that people use paper, bio-plastics and any other biodegradable material or at least put a barrier between the kaylite and food,” added Chipurura.

The department said Chapurura will have another study to determine reactions on serving.

Environment, Water and Climate minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri banned the use of EPS packaging early last year and gave those whose businesses depended on its use up to June 30, last year to switch to alternative packaging or risk being levied.

She said the kaylites were fouling the environment.

The ban was in line with Statutory Instrument 84 of 2012, as read with Section 140 of the Environmental Management Act (Cap 20:27), but fast food outlets and major supermarkets continue to package food including meat, fruits and vegetables in kaylites.

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