To braai or not to braai...

Pertunia Thulo -- Tue, 09/22/2015 - 10:10

To braai or not to braai...

Researchers at the North-West University (NWU) recently concluded a study to establish if a traditional South African braai can have a negative impact on one’s health. Outcomes of this study might just convince you to have succulent lamb chops ever so often on the grill.

Dr Pieter van Zyl from the Faculty of Natural Science says although the term “braai” is an Afrikaans word, it transcends ethnic barriers and is practised by most South Africans. “This form of cooking is not just a means to an end, but is an important social activity that strengthens the inter- and intra-relations of communities.”

Van Zyl says it is common practice to include this type of cooking in casual family time, formal team-building events, meetings and business entertainment. “In addition to being a social event, braai meat is also sold by many vendors on street markets, whereas wood and charcoal are also commonly burned in many households for cooking and space heating in, especially semi-formal and informal settlements.”

In order to assess the impacts of a typical South African braai, a comprehensive analysis of the spreading of atmospheric smoke and gasses originating from a traditional South African braai was conducted at the Welgegund atmospheric measurement station of the North-West University which is considered to be one of the most comprehensively equipped and advanced scientific atmospheric monitoring stations in Africa.

In general, the results indicated that for a recreational braai no significant health-related risks occur due to the relatively short exposure period. “However, if these short-term results are extrapolated to longer exposure periods that is experienced by occupational vendors on a daily basis, it is evident that health-related risks significantly increase.”

Van Zyl’s final conclusion and recommendation is: “Braai our beloved country, braai!”

* Technical results

Results indicated that during the braai the gaseous compounds sulphur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon monoxide (CO) increased significantly, while ozone (O3) did not increase notably. Aromatic and alkane volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were also determined, with benzene exceeding the South African one-year ambient air quality limit. A comparison of atmospheric PM10 (particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 10µm) concentrations with the South African 24-hour ambient limit indicated that PM10 is problematic when the meat is grilled. From a climatic point of view, a relatively high single scattering albedo (ωo) indicated a cooling aerosol direct effect during most of the braai, while periods with lower ωo (indicating warming of the atmosphere) coincided with peak the initial lighting of the charcoal that resulted in higher black carbon (BC) emissions. The highest trace metal concentrations were associated with species typically present in ash. Lead (Pb) concentration was higher than the annual ambient air quality limit. Sulphate (SO42-), calcium (Ca2+) and magnesium (Mg2+) were the dominant water-soluble species present in the aerosols. The largest number of organic aerosol compounds was in the PM2.5-1 fraction (particulate matter of an aerodynamic diameter ≤ 2.5µm), which also had the highest semi-quantified concentration.