Malta’s kebab houses shrug off MEPs’ phosphate ‘ban’

Kebabs are so popular in Malta that restaurants change the spit meat over twice daily

Maltese kebab houses seem unmoved by an attempt by the European Commission to get MEPs to outlaw the use of phosphates that keep spit meat fresh for longer.

MEPs will be voting on Tuesday whether to ban the use of phosphates from “vertical spit meat” – what is colloquially known as the kebab.

EU rules do not allow the use of phosphate additives in meat preparations unless explicitly listed in legislation. The European Commission wants to add “frozen vertical meat spits” to this list so that kebab shops can keep using the additives.

Although a study on phosphates is to be released in 2018, research into the loved take-away has found that the phosphates used in the meat are linked to heart disease.

MEPs from the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee want to block the EC’s listing of kebab meat, at least until the results are out of a scientific study done by the European Food Safety Agency are known.

The EFSA has said that it will re-evaluate the safety of phosphates food additives by 31 December 2018.

If Parliament as a whole backs the committee’s objection by an absolute majority, 376 votes, the proposal will be blocked and the EU Commission will have to go back to the drawing board.

But speaking to popular kebab restaurants around the island, the consensus seemed to be that these preservatives aren’t even used in Malta’s popular industry, because the meat on the spit doesn’t last for long, and is changed up to two or three times a day, depending on the day’s sales.

While natural phosphate is found mainly in protein-rich foods like dairy, fish, meat and sausages, the phosphate content of industrially processed food is much higher than that of natural food. Polyphosphates are commonly used as an additive in industrial food production, used as preservatives in the meat industry, while also found in flavoured soft drinks and powdered products. Fast food and ready-to-eat processed foods are the main contributors to today’s rising dietary consumption of phosphate.

So the question is: will MEPs’ vote banning phosphates from vertical spit meat affect Maltese kebab business?

While European kebab shop owners claimed this additive is necessary to give kebab its unique taste, Maltese kebab shop managers who spoke to MaltaToday actually say the only things they add to their meat are salt, pepper, herbs and maybe some garlic.

“The European ban won’t affect us,” the manager at Afiyet Olsun House of Kebab, San Gwann said. “Our meat is all fresh and clean.”

Afiyet Olsun's particular customer demand is such that the restaurant imports its meat because it wants to be certain that it is halal meat. The manager said that it was up to the restaurant to ensure that the meat they were getting was fresh. “We are sure that where we get our meat from is hygienic and fresh,” he said. “The suppliers should be checked for additives, not the shops… People need to know where the meat is coming from.”

“The ban only counts for England and Germany,” a representative of Oz Sofra kebab in Mosta said. “All our meat is fresh and the spit is changed up to three times a day.”

Their lamb, which is imported frozen because it’s not made in Malta, is completely fresh as well. “Kebab is not only value for money, but also healthy and fresh.”

The managers of restaurants A La Turca, San Gwann and Posh, Mosta also said that their meat is completely fresh and that they only add spices like black pepper and onion.

The restaurant Istanbul Kebab in Sliema also said they also use both fresh and frozen meat. While the kebab meat is frozen, the manager said that it doesn’t contain any preservatives, adding only paprika, salt, oil, sauce and garlic.

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