By Adetokunbo Abiola
In late June, evening shone on Akure, the Ondo State capital, and the hot breeze blew across a street off Arakale. A motorist stared with shock when he caught a food vendor washing vegetables in the dirty water of a gutter, oblivious of the people watching him.
The vegetable vendor, dressed in shorts and a pullover in the video capturing the incident, placed the bunch of vegetables on the ground beside the dirty pond, looking sheepishly at the motorist who apprehended him.
Reporting the incident, an online media outfit, Tori.ng, said the motorist warned off the food vendor from the scene, and then lamented the situation facing citizens of the nation.
In Nigeria today, consumers should be wary of what they eat, because the vegetables they eat may have been washed in the gutter. Jane Ezirigwe is a researcher on the impact of contaminated fruits and vegetables on consumers. She said about one in 10 people in the world fall sick after eating food contaminated through improper farming, processing, preservation and services.
“In Nigeria, more than 200,000 persons die of food poison annually, caused by contaminated foods. The cost of illnesses associated with food-borne diseases in Nigeria is estimated at US$ 3.6 billion per annum,” she said. Though poor data collection on food-borne outbreaks prevails, she said evidence existed to show that these contributed to ill health and death in the country as well as reduce productivity and economic growth.
This month, another food vendor was caught washing her vegetables in a gutter filled with brackish water, preparatory to taking the products to the market.
Allwell51 blogs for Nairaland and had stumbled on the photographs of the food seller on Instagram.
“Why now? Why? Vegetable vendor washing vegetable in a gutter before taking it to the market to sell to customers. This is not good. I wonder how many of these things we’ve consumed like this,” the blogger said.
While vegetables provide valuable minerals for the body, dirt doesn’t. Sadly, a good number of vegetable markets situates in very dirty environments, or in a sea of refuse, or on reclaimed wastelands. Vegetable sellers aren’t the only ones affected, because some sugar cane sellers engage in the same practice, according to videos that have been making the round in the past one or two years.
In January 2020, a picture hit the internet capturing the moment a sugar cane seller bent down to pack his wares from the gutter after they fell inside it. According to report, the seller hawked his goods when he suddenly ran into a bad portion on the road.
With a vehicle approaching, the seller diverted his wheelbarrow and some of his goods fell off into the water.
In a swift reaction, he bent over the gutter, packed the sugar canes into his wheelbarrow and continued his journey.
In March 2020, something else showed that people need to watch what the vegetables and fruits buy and eat, according to a video that made the rounds on social media showing another vegetable seller washing his goods inside a dirty water.
According to the video, it is uncertain if the goods fell off from the trader at a point or he deliberately opted to wash his wares in the dirty manhole. But the seller didn’t care, he had to wash the vegetable in the gutter.
Blessedness is a blogger on Opera News. She said the reason for the practice may be because many fruits and vegetable vendors don’t know that some of their practice like washing their wares with unclean water could cause a great health risk to their consumers.
“Some don’t even care at all, so it is your responsibility as a consumer to take precautions,” she said.
Some fruit and vegetable sellers claim archaic cultural traditions encourage preserving fruits and vegetables in dirty water.
In March, a fruit seller was caught washing his mangoes in a dirty gutter water and later arrested. A video showed him telling law enforcement officers how he kept his fruits inside the gutter to preserve them.
“I’m told it prevents them from getting spoilt,” the fruit seller said.
Fresh vegetables and fruits present the same challenges as other agricultural products, but their uniqueness lies in their being very perishable, and this might be a reason why fruit seller have to keep them fresh by washing them in ponds and gutters.
“The issue with fresh produce in Nigeria is that there is little processing, no storage in refrigerated conditions due to lack of electricity for most of the produce grown by farmers,” said a commentator.
“We also cannot move these produce quickly from farms to supermarkets or hotels or airports, where they would be used, because of poor road conditions,” he said.
In other words, consumers have to take steps to prevent injury from the sugar canes, mangoes, vegetables and other fruits they eat, or they might join the 200,000 Nigerians who perish from poisoning derived from food consumption.
Blessedness said people should stop being fond of eating fruits they buy from street hawkers or the market without properly or even washing them at all, as it was very unhygienic.
“When you buy fruits or vegetables from the market or a street vendor, endeavor to properly wash them before consuming them,” she said . “I know vegetables like carrots usually look clean and can be very tempting to eat but please resist the urge to eat for the sake of your health.”
She advised that people should mix salt in warm water and add vinegar if available then soak their fruits or vegetables in the solution for a period of 30 minutes then take them out and wash them with normal water so they could be sure that they were now fit for consumption.
Others have adopted other ways to prevent themselves from being poisoned by vegetables and fruits washed in the gutter or ponds by sellers.
“Since I notice say some abokii use the same rubber and water which they always use to wash carrot, garden egg, sugar cane etc to wash penis and buttocks, I stopped buying anything from them,” said someone in the social media.
He may be on the extreme side in terms of his observations, but the point has been made: the fruits and vegetables you eat may have been compromised, so take care before eating them.