By VIVIAN ONYEBUKWA and HENRY OKONKWO
A child Laolu Adesanya came back from school and as soon as he settled down he started vomiting. On inquiry he disclosed that he bought puff puff and ate on his way from school. Few minutes later he started stooling and frequently too. When he was taken to the hospital, it was discovered that he suffered from food poisoning as a result of the puff puff he ate; It was contaminated.
Food poison is an illness caused by eating or drinking food or water contaminated with viruses, bacteria, toxins, parasites, or chemicals.
Food poisoning is a disease that usually results in vomiting and diarrhea after a person eats or drinks fluids contaminated with certain bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals (toxins). Other symptoms that may occur are fever, abdominal pain and or cramps.
Severe signs and symptoms may include dehydration, blood in vomit or stools, diarrhea for over three days, and neurologic symptoms; for example, weakness, blurry vision, and an abnormal sensation of the body such as burning, tingling, or numbness (paresthesias).
The business of frying foods like yam, plantain, fish, meat and so on by the roadside has become one of the booming businesses across the country. Not just that they are fried along the road, they are not covered at all, but exposed to flies, dust and other pollutants.
Sometimes the sellers fry or cook the food items amid filth, and unhygienic environment either very close to a refuse dump or an open dirty sewage, leaving flies in the dirty environment to perch on them and thereby transfering some disease vectors on the edibles.
The same goes for fruits such as garden egg, carrots, pine apple and water melon which are cut open and sliced in pieces for pick at cheap prices.
This is the typical picture in many cities and towns across the country with sellers and consumers unaware of the grave danger and health risk they expose themselves.
For instance, at a bus stop in Ojuoye market area of Mushin in Lagos, a man simply identified as Ahmadu has a stand, where he fries yam and chicken wings/laps very close to garbage trucks parked along the road. Not minding suffocating stench emanating from the trash, Ahmadu scoops fried yams from the frying pan onto his tray on the table, and serves them to customers, mainly passers-by. The tray full of eatables is displayed right in the line of vehicle emissions with buzzing flies hovering over it. The ugly scene is to be witnessed at major bus stops including Ijesha, Mazamaza, Oshodi, Ojuelegba, Okokomaiko, and in bustling cities like Kano, Ibadan and Abuja where those involved throw norms to the wind, selling uncovered eatables, and putting the consumers’ lives at risk.
It is the same story at public spots like religious areas and schools where vendors prepare and sell junk food such as buns, fish-roll, egg roll, puff-puff, chin-chin, meat, fish, gizzard, chicken, yam, potatoes, turkey and fruits in unhygienic conditions, to both children and adults. The widespread practice, however, breach provisions of the Nigeria Food Safety Act prohibiting the sale of uncovered eatables.
A recent survey estimated that more than 70 per cent of the approximate 1.5 billion episodes of diarrhea that occur in the world annually are caused by biological or chemical contamination of foods.
Michael Biodun, a teenage secondary student who admits that he often buys exposed egg rolls sold along the road, told Saturday Sun that although they have been taught in school about the health hazards of eating uncovered food, he is left with no choice than to buy these snacks since the health authorities are not doing much to stop their sale.
But, according to medical and nutrition experts, consumption of such exposed foodstuffs is an open invitation to various deadly ailments. They called on Nigerians to shun them as they noted that there has been increasing frequency of stomach upset and pain and quickly attributed the cause to consumption of uncovered eatables sold at roadside. “Many of the frequent cases of diseases like typhoid, cholera, and gastroenteritis we get from patients are as a result of the unpleasant things they buy and eat. Yet these roadside food sellers are flourishing everywhere in their numbers”, a public health official, Anulika Linus, remarks.
She cautions Nigerians to be careful of what they eat, because consumption of open eatables is not only dangerous, but poisonous too. “Imagine the hundreds of cars and other vehicles that release harmful gases which settle on these uncovered eatables and fruits. Also there is a problem of flies, dusts and even rodents. And anyone, be it grown-ups or children can be affected by feeding on food and exposed fruits.”
Another official, Samuel Ogundokun says: “I can say that the uncovered food and fruits sold on the roads are infected with a number of deadly bacteria not fit for human consumption. The habit exposes the eaters to dangerous diseases like typhoid, pneumonia, urinary tract infection, hemorrhagic colitis, Lassa fever and other diseases.
According to a nutritionist, James Nnadi, time was when health officers from the local government strictly monitored the hygienic condition under which these eatables were sold on the streets. But now Nigeria’s Food Act seems to be ineffective as Nigerians eat poison in the name of food. “I think the health department doesn’t seem to care, because they are overwhelmed by the booming population of these food vendors all over the place. Take a look at Lagos. How many would they arrest? How much can food agencies do to curb this menace? It is the responsibility of the local government but they don’t seem to be doing anything about it.”
Mrs. Ogechi Okoro who spoke to Saturday, canvassed the old practice in which, she says such food items were kept in show glasses which protect them from contamination, while advertising them for customers to see, even from afar.