Cooking meat and fish in a smokehouse is a long-held tradition in many First Nations communities. But with recent studies linking meat cooked at high temperatures to cancer, the practice of using a smokehouse could pose serious health risks.
Food, Nutrition and Health researchers David Kitts and Kevin Allen have teamed up on a community-based research project that will determine the food safety and potential health risks and benefits associated with meat cooked through traditional First Nations smoke processing methods.
Because smoke processing involves cooking the meat at high temperatures, high levels of residues called polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) — known to be carcinogenic —can be produced and contaminate the food. The formation of PAHs is influenced by several factors, including cooking time, temperature and wood source and the type of meat used.
“The potential for PAHs is there but we’re hopeful they’re not at levels that would be considered hazardous,” said Professor Kitts.
The research team will test PAH residue levels for two First Nations communities, the Lake Babine Nation and Nee Tahi-Buhn. About 90 per cent of band members from both Nations consume traditional preserved foods.
The study will also look at the microbiological safety and the nutritional impact of their smoked processed foods.
“First Nations recipes use a lot of salt to dry and preserve the meat,” added Kitts. “There is some concern that the amount of salt used in the traditional food processing procedures may also pose other health risks, so we’ll be assessing the salt content of the meats as well.”
The results of the two-year project, which is funded through a grant from Health Canada and Public Health Agency, will generate a risk-benefit assessment of traditional smoke processing that will work towards enhancing the health and wellness of First Nation band members.