There is an increase in food poisoning in the country with many Nigerians being ignorant about this silent killer, and when it strikes they become restless, sometimes leading to death. GABRIEL EWEPU brings this public health challenge to the fore as it affects Nigerians daily, and how it can be tackled.
Over the years, Nigeria had recorded frightening figures and cases of food poisoning. Many people, after eating a particular meal develop abdominal discomfort, which has led them to the emergency room, even death. Unfortunately, it has been a reoccurring incidence, with thousands of lives lost and yet there is no conscious effort to stem the tide.
Food poisoning is a common, usually mild, but sometimes deadly illness. This occurs after consuming a contaminated food or drink. Depending on the contaminant, fever chills, bloody stools, dehydration and sometimes damage to the nervous system may follow. The symptoms include nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, and diarrhea that occur suddenly. These symptoms may affect one person or a group of people who ate the same thing, resulting in an outbreak.
There have been cases of deaths caused by eating beans (killer beans) which are recorded almost every year. Experts said the “killer beans” issue is traceable to the chemical preservatives used in preserving the beans, which contaminate the beans in the process.
In 2008, the former director general of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Prof. Dora Akunyili, said that over three million cases of acute poisoning and 20,000 deaths occur annually due to exposure of food pesticides. She said these pesticides are wrongly applied and abused in preventing pests.
Akunyili further said that, “The hazardous nature of pests and their inherent toxicity and ability to cause poisoning make it mandatory that we ensure the safety of the user, our populace and the environment.”
In 2010, many people in Bekwarra Local Government of Cross River State, suffered from food poisoning due to indigestion of moi-moi and beans. As a result about 122 people were hospitalized, while deaths of two children are recorded. The moi-moi and beans were said to have contained a large dose of highly toxic pesticides.
It was also reported that over 120 students of Government Secondary School, Doma, Gombe State, were rushed to Gombe Specialist Hospital after consuming a meal of beans suspected to have been preserved with poisonous chemicals. The people who sold the beans are yet to be identified and dealt with.
According to the report of Mailonline, “In Britain, food poisoning has an estimate of 500,000 cases every year. About 3,000 people are hospitalized every year because of the condition, which is thought to cost Britain over £12 million (Twelve million pounds) annually in sick leave and medical treatment.”
The unhygienic environment where some restaurants are located contributes to food poisoning even from the point of purchase of food items to the place it is being prepared, particularly the handling and preservation methods. At the end of it all, the consumer receives the trouble. It is not only does food poisoning occur at restaurants, but also the environment where people live and prepare their meals serve as source of food poisoning, particularly the state of the kitchen.
Food poisoning is one of the non communicable diseases which have claimed many lives in Nigeria. It is a public health problem which occurs daily at home, place of work, restaurants, and eateries. It is a silent killer on the sprawl, which is not often reported as people tend to recover quickly.
Food poisoning is on the rise in Nigeria; the agencies charged with the responsibility of food safety have not really swung into action to curb this rising menace, as public enlightenment is still at its lowest as far as this issue is concerned. You hear people say, “Dirty no dey kill Afrika-man, notin dey happen, wetin man go do, mama-put carry-go.” It is disgusting as a friend narrated his ordeal when he travelled to one of the cities in Nigeria for a course. He said:”I was a complete stranger as it was my first visit to that city. During break I went to search for a restaurant to buy food and eat, lo and behold, the only restaurant on the street was on a suspended wooden platform over a gushing sewage with a swarm of flies hovering over those already sitting and eating as they were busy using one hand to chase the flies from perching on their food, while the other was doing the eating. Actually, I was hungry; I had no choice but to join the large number of young customers, who had lined up with their plates giving their orders for their preferred meals, while the madam in charge was sweating profusely as she dished the food to her esteemed customers.
“Mama-put see me here, do fast before I quench,” said one of the hungry customers.’ Others began to laugh. I was frustrated with the service. Eventually, I ate the food I ordered. Although the food was cheap, after a while my intestines began to rumble and groan, I went to the toilet about 10 times, eventually, ended up in the a nearby hospital. I was placed on admission, even my wife had to travel down to take care of me. I spent four days in the hospital, and incurred expenses of over N1,5000. I could not continue the training course I went for, but thank God, I am alive today. “
Poor hygiene is a major cause of food poisoning in Nigeria, as people do not observe personal hygiene principles. Many people fail to wash their hands with soap after using the toilet, and they use it to eat and prepare food for themselves and others.
The known causes of food poisoning can be divided into two categories: infectious agents and toxic agents. The infectious agents include viruses, bacteria, and parasites. While toxic agents include poisonous mushrooms and improperly prepared exotic foods.
The following steps will help in preventing food poisoning if strictly adhered to:
- Avoid buying expired foods.
-Do not eat stake food.
-Wash hands with soap after using the toilet.
- Keep the kitchen clean always.
- Endeavour to properly cover every cooked food, and adequately preserve foodstuff.
- Avoid any torn or leaking packages of food.
- Refrigerate perishable foods; place raw meat or fish in the coldest section of the refrigerator.
- Wash fruits, vegetables, fish and meat with salt.
- Keep the environment clean.
- Sanitise cutting-boards often in a solution of one teaspoon chloride bleach in one quarter of water.
- Use cooked leftovers within four days.