In Cameroon, the use of formaldehyde, a declared carcinogenic substance, to ripen or extend the shelf life of certain foods, remains widespread despite government efforts and health alerts. This is evident in the markets of the capital, Yaoundé.
In Cameroon, the use of formaldehyde, also known as formalin, in markets is concerning. This carcinogenic substance has been used since 2004 to ripen or extend the shelf life of fruits, and sometimes even for preserving meat and fish.
Doctors are sounding the alarm, and the government is conducting seizures. However, formaldehyde continues to be present in the markets.
“We can only see how they spray something, like water.”
For example, at the Mvog Mbi market in the 4th district of Yaoundé, the use of formaldehyde on food is an open secret, as confirmed by a vendor: “We can only see how something is sprayed, like water. For plantains, it is done in plain sight. As for fruits, we don’t exactly see when they do it, since the fruits come to us at the market. You buy your slice of pineapple or your small fruit and you suck on it, without knowing that. So, only God can protect us, because people exaggerate.”
At the Acacia market, three kilometers from Mvog Mbi, Marthe, a regular customer, recalls coming across a bunch of plantains ripened with formaldehyde: “At the market, the plantains are all yellow, the peel is yellow… But when you remove the peel at home, it’s hard. It’s as if the plantains have a skin disease.”
In addition to plantains and other fruits and vegetables, meats and fish are also not exempt from this practice. Traders use formaldehyde in the hope of prolonging their shelf life. According to Dr. Dominique Blaise Ngompe, a physician, this is a real danger to the health of consumers: “Formaldehyde is used for preservation to delay the natural process of bodily decomposition, just like it is used to give a better physical appearance to the deceased. In general, formaldehyde used on foodstuffs can cause respiratory problems and severe vesicular lesions in the stomach, intestines, kidneys, etc.”
“It’s better to buy directly from the growers.”
On the other hand, Dr. Polain Nzobeuh, a biologist and therapist, advocates for the consumption of natural and organic products. He believes that formalin-treated products are unfit for consumption as they are hazardous to health. As a solution, he recommends buying certain products directly from growers. “On barrels of formaldehyde, it says ‘unfit for consumption’ with skull and crossbones. But how does this formaldehyde end up on food, and why do we eat it?” he exclaims. “This is a problem of modern life. Modern life requires products to be manufactured thousands of kilometers away and easily transported to conquer markets.”
He emphasizes, “If a product is fresh and natural, it deteriorates within a few weeks. It needs to be preserved, and formaldehyde is amazing because it freezes and keeps things fresh. When you see meat on a market stall, it looks fresh, it is frozen, but no flies come near it. The market vendor resells, does not throw away the spoiled ones, and is forced to use formaldehyde.”
Dr. Polain Nzobeuh concludes, “So it’s better to buy directly from the growers. Vigilant housewives go to the market early to see vendors who come directly from the fields with their products. Buy from them! Do your shopping early! Don’t buy things that have been overnight! Better yet, have your own garden, cultivate certain things, don’t be 100% dependent.”
The Cameroonian government has launched a crusade against the use of formaldehyde on food. Authorities have announced the seizure of over 5,000 liters of this chemical product in the past eight months of the year.