It’s 2018 and South Africans are reeling from the shocking news of an outbreak of
deadly listeria which has claimed the lives of at least 180 people. The source of the
outbreak has been traced back to factories producing processed cold meats. Although
even one death from listeriosis is one death too many perhaps something good could
come out of this unfortunate crisis. For me the best outcome would be that moms rethink
what they are putting on their children’s sandwiches. We’re not even talking here about
the risk of life-threatening bacteria which in any case we hope will never happen again.
We’re talking about the nutritional value, or lack of it, in processed meats such as
polony, as well as the health hazards lurking in the additives.
When in 390BC, Hippocrates said: “Let food be your medicine…”, believe me, he was
not talking about polony – nor was he talking boloney. Have you ever investigated what
goes into processed meats such as polony and Vienna sausages? According to food
technologists for the most part they consist of mixtures of off-cuts from all types of meat
including organ meat, all ground up finely with loads of fat holding it altogether. Then
colourants, flavourants, loads of salt (sodium), nitrates and many other chemicals go in
to make these foods look appetizing and palatable enough to consume. Price and
convenience is what makes them popular, especially among feeding schemes for
disadvantaged children, where a slice of pink polony gets slapped between two slices of
nutrition-deficient white bread (more non-food). Sliced–to-go, so to speak. This
advantage of convenience, I’m sorry to say, does not outweigh the disadvantages.
Firstly, a processed meat such as polony has had all nutritional value processed right
out of it and does not carry within it the enzymes, vitamins and minerals required for its
digestion. As such the body has to draw on its own reserves of nutrients and enzymes to
metabolize it, thus depleting the immune system further. Not a good food for an already
immune-depleted body of a starving or sick child or anyone else for that matter.
Secondly, these foods are loaded with chemicals that are horrendously detrimental to
health. In 2015 the World Health Organisation classified processed meats as
carcinogenic to humans. They have certainly been linked to stomach and colorectal
cancer. This includes bacon, hot dog sausages, polony, salami, ham, and smoked or
cured meat. Likely contributors to the problem are the added nitrates and excess salt or
MSG and the smoking done to extend the shelf-life of such products. The World Cancer
Research Fund in the UK recommends an outright avoidance of all processed meats,
including biltong (sadly). Processed meats have also been linked to diabetes and heart
So why are we still eating them and serving them to our trusting kids? Seems we are not
doing our children any favours at all, apart from temporarily satisfying their hunger. The
more processed a food the less likely it will nourish you, and the more likely it will send
you to an early grave. Relying on the convenience of a major industrial operation to
prepare your food for you is seriously short-sighted. You may be paying less now in time
and money but the future "bill" you will get cannot be paid with money.
The general recommendation here is to restrict your meat choices whenever possible to
grass-fed and organic meats, cooked in their natural state. For school lunch boxes,
sliced cooked meat, pilchards, peanut butter, egg or cheese sandwiches are healthier
less processed options than polony.