People living in Lagos and Kano may need to be wary of what they consume outside their homes as a study shows a high level of contamination of food consumed in these states.
The food were reportedly contaminated with chemicals, metals, pesticides residue, among others.
To address this, food experts have urged the Federal Government to pass and implement the food safety bill. This, they said would reduce hazards of food poisoning in the country.
This call was made on Friday in Abuja as Nigeria joined the world to commemorate the World Food Safety Day. The World Food Safety Day is aimed at calling global attention to the unhealthy effects of unsafe food.
Status of bill
The bill on National Food Safety & Quality has been approved by the Federal Executive Council and it is currently at the National Assembly for passage into law.
Speaking at the event, the Food Agriculture and Organisation, representative in Nigeria, Suffyan Koroma, said food safety is an important aspect of food system that ensures ”that food that is grown, processed, marketed, sold and consumed are free from contaminants.”
Mr Koroma, who was represented by Alphonsus Onwemeka, said a dietary study carried out in Lagos and Kano showed a worrisome level of contamination of food at the point of consumption.
He said the food was contaminated with chemicals, metals, pesticides residue, among others.
“This should awaken Nigeria to the looming health challenges and economic loss that could result from lack of attention on food safety.”
Mr Onwemeka also said, “it is critical to understand our food safety need to change due to increase food needs, dietary transition, the increase in number of formal and informal food outlets in urban areas.
“More street food is being consumed more than ever and Nigerians eat at least one meal out of the home.
Food is an essential part of our daily life, as everyone eats at least one meal a day and these range from fruits and vegetables to carbohydrates and proteins.
High risk foods such as ready-to-eat foods, foods of animal origin and spices can contain harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, due to unsafe food handling practices.
Food-borne disease is not only a burden on health but also on the productivity of a nation’s work force.
In 2016, World Bank estimated that in Nigeria alone, the productivity loss from food-borne diseases was approximately $7 billion, the most in Africa.
This is in addition to loss of earnings in foreign exchange due to the ban of Nigerian foods in the international market because of unsafe application of chemicals.
In a similar vein, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health, Abdulaziz Abdullahi, said the government understod the importance of safe handling of food in the country and has launched the National Policy on Food Safety & Its Implementation Strategy.
He said the bill is expected to usher in a new era of food control in the country ”where all tiers of government and MDAs will work together alongside the Organised Private Sectors (OPS) to ensure the wholesomeness of our foods.”
Mr Abdullahi said the Federal Government has since 2015 initiated the process that will guarantee the safety of food.
He said two committees were also inaugurated consisting of representatives from the public, private and academic sectors.
He said this became necessary because most of those affected by unsafe food in Nigeria are children under age five.
Mr Abdullahi said the urgent need to raise awareness in food safety stemmed from the increase in global food poisoning and diseases.
“Unsafe food practices abound across the country. These include unhealthy cultivation practices through the use of unapproved chemicals (such as calcium carbide in fruit and vegetable ripening) and fertilisers; poor food storage and processing facilities, as seen in a number of abattoirs and along the roads; the use of disused tires and kerosene in roasting animals for human consumption; non-hygienic food preparation environments as seen in the way foods are prepared by the roadsides, gutters and near open faecal defecation areas among others.
“These can lead to diseases such as Typhoid, Cholera, Diarrhoea, Botulism, Listeriosis, Hepatitis A, and Cancer,” he said.
Mr Abdullahi said his ministry is working with the state ministries of health and agriculture as well as the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria to further strengthen the process.
“In terms of regulation, the Federal Minsitry of Health has empowered the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), to be able to undertake more effectively its mandate in the regulation of processed and packaged foods in the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation estimated that about 91 million people in Africa consume contaminated food which makes them ill. Also around 137,000 people in Africa die from contaminated food.
WHO linked the risk of food-borne diseases to preparing food with unsafe water; poor hygiene and inadequate conditions in food production and storage; lower levels of literacy and education; and insufficient food safety legislation or implementation of such legislation.
It is estimated that in 2015, ”159 million people still collected drinking water directly from surface water sources, 58 per cent of whom are in sub-Saharan Africa.”