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Consumers of rotten pepper,tomatoes risk liver, kidney problem

By Maria Famakinwa

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Many Nigerians, including food vendors resorted to buying and eating rotten pepper and tomatoes popularly called ‘esa’ in the Southwest due to harsh economy which make the fresh ones unaffordable for the masses. Despite warnings from health experts that consumers of rotten peppers and tomatoes may be endangering their vital organs, including the liver and the kidney is not enough to dissuade average citizens from patronizing rotten peppers and tomatoes as they relish delicacy made from it.

One of such Nigerians is Iya Muibat, a trader, sighted at Oja-Oba, Akure, Ondo State capital who had already paid for rotten pepper and tomatoes with whitish substances. One could see the excitement of buying cheap peppers and tomatoes in her. This writter walked up to her and asked where she bought the cheap peppers and tomatoes,  she pointed to the place and said it was “esa” I bought and very cheap.

When asked why the choice of “esa” and not fresh ones she said: “That is what I can afford for now. Look at the fresh ones shared for N500 and N1000. How much of it do you think I can buy to feed my four children including me and my husband? That is how i have been managing to survive the harsh economy.”

 Asked if she was not aware of the health problems inherent in consuming such tomatoes and peppers, she said: “I don’t believe that it has any health implications, because when you boil it, everything that is not good in it will die. We’ve been eating it all these years without any problem. It is just an alternative for people like me who cannot afford to buy the fresh ones.”

The idea of using rotten peppers and tomatoes for Mrs Funmilola Samuel, a salary earner, did not just start. It has been her way of managing her resources for years. “It is “esa” peppers and tomatoes that I have been using to make stew in my house in the last eight months or so because it comes cheaper than fresh ones.”

Justifying her preference for “esa” she said: “Esa has categories. It is the first grade that I always buy. There is another grade that is always an eyesore. I can’t buy that type because it can affect the taste of the stew or whatever you want to use the pepper and the tomatoes for.”

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Explaining what she meant by first grade, she said: “I mean freshly broken tomatoes from the basket. I always give money to the woman selling tomatoes in my area to help me select the broken ones from the basket immediately she comes back from the market. I give her money in advance so that some other people would not beat me to it. I do same for pepper.  Those ones are fresh but it is just that they got broken in the course of transporting them from one place to another. It is as good as the fresh ones.

“The most important thing for me is that they come cheaper and are more in quantity. When there is enough supply in the market, I can afford to go back to buying fresh ones. But as things are now, I will continue to buy first grade “esa.” How much do I earn in a month and how will I meet other obligations if I continue to spend so much on just a pot of soup? I need to wise up as they would say by resorting to buying esa. After all, tomato is tomato. It is the person that you tell that it is “esa” that you used to make your stew that will know. “It is a strategy to cut costs.”

Asked if she was not aware of the health problems inherent in consuming rotten peppers and tomatoes, she said: “No matter how bad rotten peppers and tomatoes may be once it is well cooked, the heat will kill any virus in it. I always make sure that I fry my stew very well, and I don’t think anything unhealthy will survive under such heat. Besides, I have not heard that anyone died from consuming rotten peppers or tomatoes even the so called fresh ones are planted with the aid of fertilizer. So, no one is free. It is only God that can save us.”

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 For a food vendor, who preferred not to be named , disclosed that it is an economic suicide for any vendor to be using fresh tomatoes in the present economic situation.

She said: “How do you want me to recoup my investment and make profit if I go on to buy fresh pepper and tomatoes to make stew? At what price? Do you want me to shut down? When most customers don’t want to care whether peppers, tomatoes and other ingredients are expensive or not but will keep asking you to pour stew on their food.

“One of the ways out of this is to use “esa” peppers and tomatoes to make your stew. I have tomato sellers who help me to put this together. Let us face the fact here, if you go to the market and buy fresh tomatoes, will some of them not be broken before you get home? Will you because of that throw them away? I use fresh “esa” peppers and tomatoes not rotten ones just like other food vendors and I don’t see anything wrong in it because consumers also come to the market to buy rotten peppers and tomatoes to make stew for their families,” she said.

A woman who sells pepper and tomatoes at Oba-Ile market, simply identified as Mummy Dunsi, though, agreed that consuming rotten peppers and tomatoes have health hazards because they harbour germs revealed that 75 per cent of consumers prefer it to the fresh ones because they are cheaper and much. “No matter how rotten peppers and tomatoes are, buyers will always come for it. What most consumers are after is the quantity as the quality is not important to them.”

On why they shaded rotten peppers and tomatoes for consumers instead of throwing them away she said that selling them will help to reduce their lost. “Since we use our money to buy them, will must also make our money from it. Once the quantity is more than the fresh ones, customers will be rushing to buy them. Even if you did not have rotten peppers and tomatoes, consumers will still ask for it.  Not because they like it more than the fresh ones, but because it is much and cheaper when compared to fresh peppers and tomatoes. The demand for rotten peppers and tomatoes are on the increase because those are the ones you can get for N100 and N200 the fresh ones start from N500 and above. The fault is not from the sellers, as we speak, a basket of tomatoes fluctuates between N14,000 to N18,000 while that of pepper is also on the high side and we expect the prize to go up as we approach festive season. That is the situation. Some consumers who buys “esa” will even tell you that it is sweater than the fresh ones. I don’t blame them, they are only accepting the reality of their condition,” she said.

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A dietician, Mrs Bunmi Ajila, who warned against consuming rotten peppers and tomatoes maintained that “asa” whether first grade or second grade is poisonous. She advised consumers to avoid peppers and tomatoes that have bruises or cuts on the skin because such have been contaminated with harmful bacteria that can affect the liver, kidney and other organs of the body.

Her words:“Contaminated peppers and tomatoes have been linked to incidents of food poisoning caused by Salmonella. Salmonella, according to the works of one Katherine Lee, is a group of bacteria that commonly cause food borne illness. An infection by the bacteria is called salmonellosis (or salmonella for short), and you can get it by consuming contaminated food products, including raw poultry, eggs, raw or unpasteurised dairy, beef, and in some cases fruits and vegetables.”

 While advising the general public to desist from buying rotten tomatoes because they are cheap  stressed that the bacterial and fungi in rotten tomatoes are heat resistant, that no matter how many hours used in cooking them, can still render havoc. “It is better to consume fresh tomatoes that are costly and enjoy good health than buying cheap rotten tomatoes of #500 and spend thousands while admitted in the hospital.”

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