RECENT report on the sharp practices of Fufu producers in the South West states calls for concern as it has generated lots of fears and condemnations by its consumers. The report seems to have served as a wake up call to National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) which few days ago sent its officials from Abuja and visited Ondo and Ekiti States to take samples of fufu being produced in the two states for laboratory investigation.
IN the report, it was gathered that Fufu (a locally made food produced from cassava) processors are mixing hypo, detergents and potash with cassava to ferment it in a bid to make abnormal profits. The finding further revealed that many fufu processors not only in Ondo state but also in Ekiti, Osun, Ogun and some other states indulge in the unholy act.
THE Ondo State Consumer Protection Council (CPC), in its reaction to the development assured the general public that the CPC in the State was aware of unwholesome act by some Fufu producers and that action is being taken to educate fufu producers against the deadly act, warning that any producer or seller of poisonous food caught would be made to face the full weight of the law.
CONSUMPTION of food mixed with chemicals has been attributed to leading cause of food poisoning by medical experts, tracing it to series of increase terminal diseases often reported in the country as many patients could not explain how they became victims of some ailments that are not known in the family history. Food poisoning which is also known as food borne diseases encompasses a wide spectrum of illnesses and are all growing public health problem worldwide. They are the results of ingestion of foodstuffs contaminated with micro organisms or chemicals.
THE most common clinical presentation of food borne disease takes the form of gastrointestinal symptoms which can also have neurological, gynaecological, immunological and other symptoms. Multi organ failure and even cancer may result from the ingestion of contaminated food, thus, representing a considerable burden of disability as well as mortality.
FOOD poisoning symptoms which vary with source of contamination include nausea, vomiting, watery or bloody diarrhea, abdominal pain, cramp and fever that can start within hours of eating contaminated food.
IN Nigeria, about 70 per cent of the food we consume is cultivated in rural areas where farmers and distributors are mostly illiterates. According to the World Health Organization (WHO) food borne diseases in 2015 were found to have made approximately 600 million people sick and caused 420,000 untimely deaths. Unsafe food according to WHO contains pathogens and harmful chemical substances which cause more than 200 diseases ranging from diarrhoea to cancer. WHO added that forty per cent of children under five years of age globally are affected by food poisoning with 125,000 deaths annually.
ADDING chemicals to food is not peculiar to fufu alone, in 2015 and 2016, European Union rejected several food items originating from Nigeria, citing poor quality, contamination and high level of chemicals in the preserved products. This revealed how Nigerian food fell far short of the minimum required standards. In July this year, NAFDAC warned fruits sellers against using calcium carbide to ripen fruits forcefully for commercial purposes after such sharp practice by fruit sellers was discovered and reported, adding that calcium carbide is a toxic and highly dangerous, corrosive chemical used industrially in the production of acetylene gas which burns and produces light.
WINNING the war against food poisoning across the country has remained a mirage despite efforts of NAFDAC and other regulatory bodies such as Standard Organization of Nigeria (SON), Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) among others set up by various governments to fight the scourge. The wrong application of fertilizer by farmers poses its own challenges. Likewise, the processing of palm -oil, garri, yam flour, Fufu and other staples has been found to be unsafe. Palm-oil is refined using archaic, cumbersome method, while garri and yam flour that latter find their way into different markets are sun dried on hills and roadsides in the rural areas where they are contaminated by rodents.
UNCONFIRMED report also claims that snipper is used to preserve some grains.
This development poses grave threat to the health of Nigerians who consume them. Unfortunately, most illnesses, hospitalisations and deaths caused by food poisoning are under reported or recorded. What makes it harder to track is that the majority of these cases happen in the informal food sector where there is contamination through unsafe practices on farms and in market places.
IF achieving food safety begins with ensuring proper practice in production at the farm level, THE HOPE urges FMARD to work at ensuring that good agricultural practices are maintained on farms to reduce microbial and chemical hazards. We also want open markets to be properly coordinated to ensure that hygienic conditions are maintained on a daily basis. Members of the public also have a role to play to curb food poisoning in the country by reporting to the appropriate authorities whenever they observe anyone indulging in the act of using chemicals in processing food.
SINCE findings have revealed that most of the fufu processors are rural women, THE HOPE appeals to government of different states in the country to establish a comprehensive task force through the Environment /Health Department of each Local Government to monitor food processing in the areas. Doing this will address the ugly trend of adding chemicals to food and drinks and save unsuspecting consumers from avoidable health hazards.
While commending the quick response of Ondo State NAFDAC and CPC towards addressing the issue of poisonous Fufu, THE HOPE appeals to the authority concerned to sensitise the public through various mass media on the dangers of using chemicals in food possessing or preservation and also carry out thorough investigation with the aim of bringing perpetrators to book to serve as deterrent to others. Although, there has been an admirable focus on food security in the country, we urge the government to consider the safety of our food as part of that security.
As a matter of urgency, THE HOPE appeals to regulatory bodies in the country, especially NAFDAC to develop workable strategies to enforce already existing regulations and put new approaches and laws in place to protect consumers and to also embark on regular training of food handlers including fruits and vegetables to make them conform to laid down standards and regulations which will help in reducing drastically incidents of food poisoning leading to deaths across the nation.