Kebs unmasks trick oil manufacturers are using to sell more volumes

Cooking oil

A customer shops at a supermarket in Nyeri town.  Kebs has accused the manufacturers of supplying cooking oil with high levels of iron.

Photo credit: Joseph Kanyi I Nation Media Group

Disputes over suspension of 10 leading cooking oil brands on quality concerns persisted yesterday, as manufacturers differed with the government on quality of the products and the motive for the ban.

This follows the Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) action to suspend batches of various cooking oil brands including Bahari Fry, Fresh Fri, Fry Mate, Olive Gold, Rina, Tilly and Top Fry, for having high levels of iron on Friday last week. The affected brands are produced by four leading manufacturers -- Bidco, Pwani Oil, Kapa Oil and Menengai Oil.

While Kebs accuses the manufacturers of supplying cooking oil with high levels of iron to make a killing from customers as they consume beyond normal levels, manufacturers accuse Kebs of making a speculative accusation, even as they agree that affected batches are to be recalled from the market.

Kebs leadership, manufacturers and Trade Principal Secretary Kirimi Kaberia were yesterday holed up in a heated meeting that lasted at least five hours, after which Kebs said it would sue the four manufacturers for selling substandard products.

“It is illegal for any manufacturer, distributor or anybody to sell a product that does not meet standards and therefore, after recall, we are going to proceed with taking action on these manufacturers who may have distributed these products to the market,” Kebs MD Bernard Njiraini said, adding Kebs had started a process that would culminate in taking the manufacturers to court.

Mr Njiraini accused the manufacturers of producing cooking oil with high levels of iron, whose effect was higher levels of consumption by customers, to keep buying more.

“We are talking more about the quality of the edible oil, that if the edible oil or fats have excessive iron, the quality in terms of its life if it’s for deep frying deteriorates and that means most of the customers would run back to the shop more frequently. It is much more of a commercial concern, than a health concern,” he said.

The set standard for iron in edible oils is 2.5mg/kg.

Manufacturers have, however, disputed the claims by Kebs, stating that they have done independent verifications from laboratories accredited by Kebs, which confirmed that products in the said batches are safe, while terming the claim on sale of products with higher levels of iron to make money “speculative” and without a scientific basis.

“That hasn’t come up in any of our engagements, it’s speculative and that is now tying a product to human behaviour, to which no proper research has been done to prove that. They are not qualified to state that,” said Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) chief executive Anthony Mwangi.

The accusation is coming at a time Kenyans have been buying cooking oil at prices about 40 per cent more than last year when a litre sold for around Sh303, with global shocks and forex weaknesses having caused a spike in prices. Around the same time, different brands of cooking oil have also been witnessing discounted sales across supermarkets, even as prices remained high.

Mr Mwangi also defended companies that issued independent test results, while casting doubts on machines Kebs is relying on.

“The disagreement coming from different testing exercises could infer an issue of calibration of machines. It’s not harmful for different companies to issue statements from independent laboratories on test results. Kebs also depends on independent labs for testing across parts of the country where it does not have the facilities,” Mr Mwangi said.

Both sides said they had agreed that batches would be recalled for corrective measures to be taken, with Mr Njiraini saying Kebs officials had been deployed to the manufacturers’ factories for further assessments.

Mr Mwangi said manufacturers want to collaborate with Kebs in conducting joint sampling and testing of products moving forward to avoid a situation where different labs return varied results, a direction the government does not appear to be willing to move in.

“The procedures of ensuring that verification and testing is done is not a spot thing. It’s continuous. The industry has a responsibility to ensure that their products are compliant and we don’t make reference to them, we go straight to the product, it’s tested and the results are announced as we have done,” Mr Kaberia said.

The ministry, however, clarified that it is only specific batches of the brands that have been affected that will be recalled and not all the products.

“We wish to assure the public that whatever else is in the market from the respective brands is safe and there is no cause for alarm,” Mr Kaberia said.

After Kebs ordered recall of the products on Friday, Pwani Oil and Bidco on Saturday and Sunday released their independent lab test results, which contradicted those issued by Kebs.

“As we continue to follow through on the isolation of the product, the product samples were sent to SGS which is a global, independent and Kebs-accredited laboratory for testing immediately and the results received from the independent and Kebs-accredited laboratory confirm compliance to KS EAS 769:2019 Fortified Edible Oil and Fats specification in iron levels of 2.5mg/kg as attached,” said a statement from Mr Rajul Malde, director, Commercial development at Pwani Oil.

“On the matter at hand, we sent sealed samples with the same batch numbers to one of the leading independent labs in Kenya, Bureau Veritas, who gave the two products a clean bill of health in compliance with Kebs standards in the parameter of iron content of maximum 2.5mg/kg,” Bidco Africa Chairman Vimal Shah said in a statement on Sunday.

Mr Njiraini said surveillance of the products happened between June and August, after which communication was made to specific manufacturers on September 9.