BusinessDay

World food safety day: Is our food safe?

The United Nations earmarked the 7th of June yearly as the world food safety day. The day’s goal is to raise awareness and encourage people to take the necessary precautions to avoid, detect, and manage foodborne illnesses. Foodborne diseases are most commonly caused by poor personal hygiene. This year’s theme focused on “Safer food, better health.”

Food is essential for all humans and animals to have a healthy, reproductive, and productive life. Sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food are vital for supporting life and maintaining excellent health.

When humans consume safe food and are in excellent health, they are incredibly active and productive; nevertheless, consuming food that has already been contaminated with microbial pathogens can cause severe illnesses and even death.

An unsettled stomach, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, fever, and dehydration indicate contaminated food consumption and these symptoms can emerge as soon as 30 minutes after consuming contaminated food or take many days to appear. Some severe instances may necessitate admission to a hospital.

Foodborne infections have colossal health and socioeconomic consequences, including lost productivity and reduced quality of life. More than 200 ailments, ranging from diarrhea to cancer, are caused by contaminated food carrying hazardous bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical compounds. It also feeds a vicious cycle of disease and hunger that disproportionately affects newborns, small children, pregnant women, the elderly, and the sick.

Food poisoning can affect anyone, but certain groups are more prone to become unwell and suffer from a more severe sickness. For various reasons, their bodies’ ability to resist infections and illness is less effective. These people make up these groups: adults above 65 years of age, children under the age of five years, pregnant women, and people with a weak immune system.

Thus, foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by damaging healthcare systems and negatively impacting country economies, tourism, and trade. At the same time, food safety helps promote national economies, trade, and tourism, as well as food and nutrition security and long-term development.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has developed five critical components for making food safer. Cleaning, separating raw and prepared food, cooking properly, keeping food at safe temperatures, and using safe water and raw materials are all crucial.

Read also: Food vendors’ tales of woes at APC convention

Despite attempts by the government and non-governmental organisations to limit the spread of foodborne pathogens, worldwide, an annual estimate of 600 million individuals – about one in every ten people– become unwell after eating contaminated food, with 420 000 deaths, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years.

In low- and middle-income nations, hazardous food costs billions of dollars in lost productivity and medical costs each year.

Nigeria, as a developing country and Africa’s most populated country, faces huge issues regarding food safety culture as the frequency of foodborne infections in the country remains disturbing. Foodborne sickness affects 40 percent of children under five, resulting in 125 000 fatalities each year.

In Nigeria, a large segment of the population, primarily low-income earners, is more concerned about cost-cutting and convenience than food safety, quality, and hygiene. Most people (low-income workers, shoppers, travellers, and schoolchildren) eat food outside their homes at least once a day. Food vendors on the street are the favoured food destination for these people, as their primary goal is to satisfy their hunger with little regard for the safety or nutritional content of such street foods.

To serve their consumers, these foods are moved around on food-laden carts, wheelbarrows, or specially-designed bicycles from one site to another. Others run their businesses out of little stalls and batches or carry meals on their heads.

Unfortunately, improper food handling procedures have grown typical among these street food vendors, with items being cooked, baked, or processed in filthy conditions. While many consumers and food businesses want to improve their food safety procedures, the necessary infrastructure to support safe food handling methods has been lacking.

Because of the prevalence of impurities such as stones, bits of wood, and rats dropping in garri (a fine food derived from the tuberous roots of the cassava plant), rice, and palm oil, both literate and uneducated customers should be worried about the safety and quality of food.

In addition, farmers swiftly harvest and sell products, including bananas, sugar cane, vegetables, and pineapple to avoid rotting due to insufficient storage facilities. Such farm goods may eventually be sold for a low price under rotting circumstances, raising the risk of food poisoning and infection from bacterial and fungal contamination. Maize, cottonseed, groundnut, cocoa, and plantain are among the farm products that are dried and stored in bags and tins to protect their safety and quality for future sale.

Furthermore, many communities and food businesses, for example, lack: adequate means of washing and drying utensils and equipment; appropriate hygienic design lavatories; sufficient facilities for food storage, ingredients, and non-food chemicals; and proper drainage and waste disposal systems. For the few towns with some of these facilities, inadequate maintenance culture is also a concern.

To avoid spreading foodborne infections, food handlers and vendors must maintain proper personal cleanliness, conduct frequent health checks, improve environmental sanitation, and adequately prepare food.

Also, to reduce the risk of foodborne infections and diseases, consumers of ready-to-eat foods and products should evaluate the overall safety of the food, the environment it was manufactured, and where and how the food is disseminated.

The government also has to enforce an effective policy that can enhance food safety like the hand washing procedures, and a no bare-hand contact policy with ready-to-eat items.

In conclusion, to promote food safety and a healthy lifestyle, we all have a role to play in ensuring food safety before consuming any food item. Governments, producers, and consumers must therefore work together effectively to ensure food safety in the country.

Busayo Aderounmu is an economist and researcher.

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