Cooking with Polythene: Ugandans Urged to Stop Dangerous Practice to Prevent Cancer


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Kampala, Uganda – Health experts are raising alarms over the widespread use of polythene bags, known locally as budeya and buveera, in cooking practices across Ugandan homes, restaurants, and hotels. These practices, while convenient, pose significant health risks, including the potential for bowel cancer.

In many Ugandan households, matooke (a type of plantain) is traditionally cooked by wrapping it in budeya, while posho (maize flour) is often prepared in green buveera. Although these methods have become ingrained in daily life, they expose consumers to harmful chemicals that leach into food during cooking.

Dr. Jane Akena, a gastroenterologist at Mulago National Referral Hospital, emphasized the dangers associated with these cooking practices.

“When polythene bags are heated, they release toxic substances such as bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates. These chemicals have been linked to various cancers, including cancer of the bowels,” she stated.

Speaking to The Standard, Dr. Jane Ruth Acheng the Health Minister said her Ministry recently launched a campaign to educate the public about the health risks of using polythene bags for cooking.

“Our goal is to encourage safer, traditional cooking methods that do not involve harmful plastics. We urge all Ugandans to consider alternatives like banana leaves for steaming matooke and stainless-steel utensils for preparing posho,” said Dr. Ruth Aceng.

Chef Moses Kintu, a prominent restaurateur in Kampala, has already pledged to stop using polythene bags in his kitchens.

“We have a responsibility to protect our customers’ health. By returning to more natural cooking methods, we can provide safer meals and contribute to a healthier society,” he said.

The Uganda Cancer Institute has reported a worrying increase in bowel cancer cases, correlating with the rise in the use of plastics in food preparation.

“Public awareness is crucial,” stressed Dr. Jackson Oryem, an oncologist at the institute. “Preventive measures can save lives, and reducing the use of polythene bags in cooking is a significant step.

Restaurant and hotel owners are also being targeted in this initiative. Many establishments use polythene bags to expedite the cooking process and reduce costs. However, health officials argue that the long-term medical expenses resulting from cancer treatments far outweigh the short-term savings.

The government is also considering stricter regulations on the sale and use of polythene bags. Enforcement of existing bans on certain types of plastics could be intensified, alongside the promotion of biodegradable alternatives.

As the campaign gains momentum, Ugandans are urged to heed the warnings and adopt safer cooking practices. The shift away from polythene bags not only preserves health but also aligns with global efforts to reduce plastic pollution and protect the environment.

By making these changes, Ugandan women, restaurant, and hotel owners can play a pivotal role in safeguarding their families, customers, and the broader community from the threat of cancer.

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