50-year-old Ondo born Kayode Akinkugbe holds HND in Food Science and Technology from Federal Polytechnics, Ado-Ekiti. He holds a Post-Graduate Diploma in Marketing and an MBA in Marketing from Lagos State University.
He worked with Cadbury Nigeria Plc as a brewer for eighteen years before he resigned to establish AKYWAMM Global Treasures Nigeria Limited where he operates as the MD/ CEO.
Akinkugbe is a professional member of both Nigeria Institute of Food Science and Technology and Institute of Food Technology of America.
In this interview with Wilson Adekumola, he shares insight on processed food items. Excerpts:
What is your assessment of the food industry in Nigeria?
Generally, the food industry in Nigeria has come of age. Though there have been challenges vis-à-vis infrastructure, manpower, equipment and all that, we seem to be getting along. Nowadays the crux of the whole problem is infrastructure. The roads are bad. There is no adequate power supply. But machine and manpower are no longer problems because the world is now a global village. We can have access to those things online and order for them.
But we have the triple problem of power, multiple taxation and lack of funds to drive the industry. Those are big issues. Lack of adequate power supply is a major problem for the food processing industry. Then paucity of funds. We don’t have access to funds to help in the expansion of our factories. These are the things that keep drawing us back. The problem of power does not allow most food industries to operate at their optimum.
But are we getting it right in terms of quality and hygiene?
Yes. When you talk about quality we are trying. But there is still room for improvement. I can grade the quality of Nigeria products as eighty percent on average. Nowhere in the world will you have 100% because there is always room for continuous improvement. There is always a better way of doing things.
Every processed food is hygienic. It depends on the process of production. Unknown to us we process food at our own small level. For instance, processing is when you take orange from the farm and convert it to orange juice by peeling it with knife before draining the orange. But then using your hand to do the peeling with a knife is not hygienic because in the process you can introduce some germs into the product. You are expected to do such peeling in a hygienic environment. But since it is not easy to use knife to peel oranges manually without introducing germs, the need for machine now becomes imperative. In this wise you have no physical contact with the product. The outcome of such process is certainly more hygienic. But then like I said the production environment must be kept clean
There is a video online about semolina and the end product being rubber. A counter video has indicated the end product is gluten which is in all fibre products. What do you have to say about this?
I think there is a conspiracy going on. It is aimed at flattening the trade curve of that particular brand. The point is that the brand is made from a choice type of flour made from wheat. The underlying quality parameter of wheat flour is the presence of protein called GLUTEN. It is this gluten that makes the flour dough to rise during processing as a result of the combination of two important constituents in this gluten namely, Glutenin and Gliadin. All these naturally occur in wheat flour and they account for the plasticity of the mixture during processing. They are not artificially added contrary to the video.
As a matter of fact, semolina or semovita is a floury product that is, a byproduct from flour and wheat flour. I mean it is one of the flours you get from cereals. We have a lot of cereals like rice, sorghum, wheat, millet and so on. But wheat flour has one significant importance and that significant importance is that it contains gluten and this gluten is protein.
Like I said earlier, the video that has been trending for the past few days is trying to discredit some companies probably Nigeria Flour Mills Plc that is into such product. It is a sponsored video to discredit them that their product is adulterated with rubber or plastic materials and that is not true because gluten itself is responsible for the plastic nature of that floury product.
These two components I mentioned above are responsible for this plasticity or swelling nature of the product during processing. When it is mixed with water it swells. It does not collapse. But other cereals like rice or millet don’t have that property. That is why it is only wheat flour that is good for bread baking. When you mix your bread it will swell even during baking it will maintain that swelling. If you use rice flour it will get flat without swelling.
How healthy is gluten for human consumption?
It is very healthy. It is a natural constituent and has no negative effect. It is protein. It is nutritional and healthy to consume.
As a food technology expert, what can you tell us about semolina as a processed food for human consumption?
Semolina has been around for a very long time and I believe the company that produces it is a very big one. It is a company that puts what we call food safety into consideration and the product is processed under hygienic condition. It contains fibre and other vital nutrients good for our body. So, it is healthy and safe for human consumption.
What basic test can consumers carry out to assess the quality of processed food items?
Let us take semolina as a case in point. By the time you want to prepare it into dough for consumption and you find out that it is not rising, that means the gluten in it has been compromised. Maybe in the process of production other cereals flour was used because other cereals flour is cheaper than wheat flour. Or maybe they have adulterated it with another cereal flour. For instance, if they mix fifty percent of rice flour and fifty percent of wheat flour, it will not swell.
Is there any connection with some of the diseases we experience in modern world with processed food?
No. for instance, semolina is even good for some certain health problems. Somebody that has diabetes or high blood sugar will do well with it. It is even advised you take a little of semolina with vegetable soup because the gluten there is protein. It will be better than taking garri or any other starchy food. You can just take small quantity as your diet requires. Processed foods generally do not have any connection with disease. What is important in processed food is that it depends on the category.
Milk for instance, is a processed canned food. Products like that, if they are not produced under strict hygienic environment will lead to food poisoning. So anybody who takes such products will have food poisoning. If the processing is not well done it will affect the aesthetics, apart from the quality. It will also affect the safety of the food itself. It can transfer negative microorganism into the body of the person that consumes such a product.
Sardine is one product that amazes me. The fish can be in a tin for months. Yet we just open and consume it. How healthy is this?
Absolutely, the first thing that is required in most processed food by regulating agencies all over the world is the batch number; so that if there is any issue it will be very easy for you to trace the cause. Then the production date. Then you see BB underneath or on the product as the case may be. That is, Best Before which signifies the expiry date. This also depends on the company. Some product could last for six months or a year. It is the BB that indicates the expiry date. In most cases, when you buy food like sardine check its Best Before date.
The difference with fish cooked and the processed fish is the level of exposure. When you cook soup fish at home and you put it on the table, after sometime there is going to be chemical or biochemical changes. But when you warm it from time to time, any microorganism that comes up will be eliminated due to chemical or biochemical changes that came about due to the temperature.
But then as you are heating it up, the nutrient value will also go down. But in case of sardine, in food technology there is one thing we call canning process. The fish have been canned, that is, they have removed some air from the can that will react and bring about this chemical or biochemical changes before they seal it. They still put brine solution. That brine is like salt and there are other chemicals they will add to it.
You know salt is like preservative. Those chemicals are permissible, because they are good for human consumption and they have been certified by National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). There is a special quantity that we add that will exclude the oxygen. So, it will stay long and retain its freshness even if you don’t warm it. But you have to watch out for the Best Before date.
What are the parameters to determine if a processed food has expired if the date on the best before has been compromised?
That involves a whole lot of things. It depends on the product. Like bread, there is no way you can bake bread that will last for one month. It is not possible. Those are perishable products that are susceptible to spoilage in a short period of time. But raw rice can be preserved for one or two years. In most cases, what normally causes spoilage in food product is the water content. Foods that are very high in water is called moisture content in food technology. If it is high in moisture it will resort to quick spoilage. But the one that has low moisture will not spoil on time. There are other indicators. PH of the fruit that is the acidity and the alkalinity of the food is another thing. So, there are lots of parameters to put into consideration.
You have been in the food processing industry for a while. What in all honesty are we not getting right as a country?
In this part of the world we don’t invest in a lot of research. In fact, we need to earmark some resources for more research and development. When we do more research we will be able to know where we have problems and solve them. Like I said, experimentation and research in food industry has to be a continuous development. You have to improve continuously. This is apart from power and funding problems.
Producers of most processed foods claim they don’t use artificial preservatives. How realistic is this?
Normally, according to NAFDAC, all constituents that you use to prepare your product must be listed. If some say they don’t add preservative, it is possible. Look at bread for instance, there is a chemical they used to add to bread to improve the quantity. It is called bromate. When bromate is added to bread it makes it look better than the one without bromate. But they later found out that bromate can cause cancer. So NAFDAC and Federal Ministry of Health now instructed that no baker should add bromate to their bread again. Those are things we are talking about. For example, we have fruit flavor you can add to your product but you must add them in a lowest tolerable manner. Some fruit juice producers may not have orange juice at all; it may be water, colour and orange flavour. When you drink you think it is orange in its natural form. But then such drinks don’t have side effect.
We hear reports that some food items like fish are preserved with chemicals used to embalm dead bodies. How will you react to this?
The chemical used to embalm human body is called formaldehyde abbreviated FOH. It is also called formalin. It is not only in fish, even in food processing, they add it because those chemicals have bacteria static effect. That is, they will not allow bacteria to come up in the course of processing the food. If there is no presence of microorganism that means it will stay longer. What is added is a calculated amount, just like a drop, it will not reflect and you will not know.
But NAFDAC has stopped the use of FOH in food processing because it is carcinogenic, that is it can cause cancer. In good manufacturing companies they have actually stopped using it except those illegal manufacturers because they know their products will still spend days on the road before it gets to their desired destination. It is detrimental to health. Such product is poisonous to the body. The poison will just be eating the intestine gradually until it causes damage to the body.