11 July 2024

Sausages are among the world’s favourite foods. They’re delicious and go well with drinks, with fried and grilled sausages a perfect match for beer. They can be part of a meal but are mostly enjoyed as a snack. Children in particular love to order them in fast-food and convenience stores.  However, when this processed food product is not made to the highest of standards, it can be harmful to the health, causing food poisoning or building up in the body with often disastrous effects.

In the wake of recent reports about sub-standard sausages, deputy secretary-general of the Thai Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Weerachai Nolwachai, recommends that consumers carefully check the packaging for an official FDA seal before purchasing.

Weerachai explained that the seal comes with registration numbers, product name, producer information, manufacturing date, and expiry or best before date. It also has information on ingredients, preservatives, and net weight.

Dr Suwannachai Wattanayingchoroenchai, chief of the Department of Health, suggests skipping sausages that appear more pink or red. Also check the package for a list of the ingredients.

“When preservatives are added to them, you shouldn’t eat them regularly,” he says.

Substandard sausages can make you sick

Experts suggest going to trusted stores when buying processed meat products. These must be produced in adherence with good manufacturing practices (GMPs), while producers must follow FDA guidelines regarding the use of preservatives.

A recent survey by the FDA shows that 22 out of 44 sausage products sampled don’t meet the food safety standard requirements.

The FDA has worked with provincial public health agencies to collect sausage samples from factories and stores nationwide to test them for safety. So far, 102 samples have been collected and 44 have been tested. Of these, half were found to contain unsafe levels of nitrites, a substance that is used as a preservative in many processed meats, sausages included.

As a preservative, the amount of nitrites used in Thailand is permitted up to 80 milligrams (mg) per kilogram of food. If prohibited substances are found in products, the makers would face charges of producing contaminated food, which carries a penalty of up to 2 years in prison and/or a fine of 20,000 baht.

The food safety examination came after 14 children in eight provinces, namely Chiang Mai, Petchaburi, Saraburi, Trang, Phayao, Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat and Kanchanaburi were hospitalized after eating sausages that are not regulated by the FDA.

They were diagnosed with methemoglobinemia. The condition occurs when the red blood cells have abnormal amounts of methemoglobin. People with this blood disorder may experience headaches, dizziness, and shortness of breath. In severe cases, the hands and feet may turn blue and it can even lead to death.

An investigation by police discovered that the sausages the children ate were made at a factory in Chon Buri. The factory owner admitted to having made sausage products without proper permits for about five years. The factory did not pass GMP standards and its products had no FDA approval on the packaging, police say.

What makes processed meat products dangerous?

In fact, sausages are an unhealthy food choice as they contain high levels of fat and sodium. According to Dr. Suwannachai, most sausages have protein and fat content as well as added water. They often contain added flavoring to make them tasty.

While nitrites do occur naturally in red meat, they are often added during meat processing as a preservative. According to the expert, the safe daily intake of nitrites from food should not exceed 3.1 mg in teenagers and 3.8 mg in adults.

Eating a large number of sausages that contain the substances increases the risk of food poisoning which can cause long-lasting health effects, he says, adding people should not eat them on regular basis.

“Cut down your consumption. Enjoying them in moderation once in a blue moon would be fine,” Dr Suwannachai says.

He adds that sausages have high-fat content. And a considerable amount of fat in this processed food comes from saturated fat that can clog your arteries. The amount of fat in 50 grams of fried sausage is equivalent to 3 teaspoons of oil.

Eating large quantities of sausages that are high in fat over a long period of time can increase your risk of becoming obese and raise your cholesterol level. And these are risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, he says.

Sausages also contain high levels of sodium, he adds. A pork sausage has 300-400 mg of sodium, which is equivalent to 1/5 teaspoon of salt. Dietary guidelines recommend we limit ourselves to less 2,000 mg of sodium per day, which is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of salt or 4 teaspoons of fish sauce.

“Taking too much sodium over time can raise blood pressure. And high blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease and chronic kidney disease.” Dr Suwannachai says.

He also suggests avoiding grilled and fried sausages, saying meat being cooked at high temperatures can generate cancer-causing compounds called nitrosamines.

“Excessive consumption of them increases your risk of cancers,” he says.

by Veena Thoopkrajae

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