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Health hazards in Lagos’ filthy fruit markets

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Fruits. PHOTO: WIKIPEDIA

Fruits, according to nutritionists are vital for maintenance of the human body, and in ensuring good health as they provide healthy nutrients needed for the body to function properly.

And because of the increasing need to stay healthy, some Nigerians are also taking more than a passing interest in fruits consumption, just as health experts advise that children introduced to fruits quite early in life.

Lagos, like in some major Nigerian cities is experiencing boom in trade in fruits and vegetables. The several truckloads of fruits that arrive in the state daily from different parts of the country attests to this.

This inflow of fresh fruits into the state has equally impacted on the number of fruit markets that are sprouting up in different parts of the state, all in a bid to meet the fruit needs of the over 20 million residents of the state. In fact, reports have it that there are about 60 fruits markets scattered across the state.

While fruits and vegetables are very good for the body, dirt is not. Sadly, a good number of these fruit markets are either situated in very dirty environments, in a sea of refuse, or on reclaimed wasteland. These include the very popular and the not so popular ones among them.

For instance, Doyin Fruit Market, Orile, Oluti Fruit Market, Iya-Iba Fruit Market, Oke-afa Fruit Market, Idi-oro Fruit Market, Boundary Fruit Market, Ile-epo Fruit Market, as well as Ketu/Mile 12 Fruit Market all share similar characteristics- they all operate in dirty environments.

Some are so filthy that buyers venture into them with special protective gears including, rain booths and nose guards. The obnoxious stench oozing from these markets, as a result of fruits decomposing under high temperature is so discomforting that it takes a brave mind to shop in them.

The market fringes are usually littered with heaps of decaying and rotten fruits that in their own way complicate matters for residents of the surrounding, who are constantly at the risk of an epidemic outbreak.

In fact, some of these residents also spare thoughts for buyers and eventual consumers, whom they fear are consuming contaminated fruits based on the dirty environment that they are warehoused.

Jemima Adewale, a resident of the state who agrees that fruits markets were simply pathetic said, “improper handling of fruits exposes consumers to avoidable diseases hence dire health concerns. Personally, I get very skeptical about where to buy fruits from for fear of paying for contaminated fruits, which could lead to food poisoning.

John Bassey points at the Iyana-Iba Fruit Market as a popular fruit market, which is located in a terrible environment. He wants the state government to do something urgent to improve the state of the market.

According to Promise Nwaogu, a biochemist, refuse sites harbour immense disease-causing organisms, which can be very dangerous to both the fruit sellers and the consumers. “For instance, diseases like typhoid fever and cholera are contracted when flies from such environments perch on food, water, fruits and these diseases eliminates almost 30 per cent of children and 12 per cent of adult annually.”

She further stated that these sellers also face very high risk of malaria and yellow fever infection because of the high number of mosquitoes that are breeding in the waste.

A Professor of Environmental Health, University of Lagos, Immaculata Nwokoro, also affirmed that fruit markets in Lagos State were very dirty, just as fruit sellers were also major generators of waste as fruits are highly perishable.

She said the fact that most vegetables and fruits are eaten either raw or half cooked, despite their exposure to contaminants that are readily available in dirty environments, dump or landfill sites makes it a major concern for health authorities to look into.

“The result most times is food poisoning that can be mild or chronic, in some cases leading to fatality, especially among women and infants,” she said.

This claim is supported by the World Health Organisation (WHO, which revealed that 40 per cent of children under five years of age globally are affected by food-borne diseases or food poisoning, with 125, 000 deaths annually, whereas 200, 000 people die of food poison annually in Nigeria.

According to Nwokoro, food poisoning is caused by contaminated foods cum fruits through improper processing, preservation and service. “Food contaminants are mostly substances from our environments.

She observed that human activities lead to generation of wastes, which constitutes a breeding ground for disease vectors and other microorganism that can contaminate food resulting to food poisoning.

“Pathogens gain access to contaminate food through improper handling, during preparation and storage. Food poisoning comes from eating foods that have been contaminated with microorganisms like bacteria and viruses; poisonous metals like cadmium or lead and chemicals. Contaminated food does not always taste bad, but mostly smells and tastes very normal.

“Some food cause poisoning more frequent than others so they need to be properly cooked and/or refrigerated. Examples are dairy foods, sea foods, chicken and of course, raw fruits. Universal food safety practices are to be applied to prevent all food poisoning handling practices.”

Nwokolo noted that food contamination can be influenced by income inequities, as research has shown that higher income people are likely to have access to healthier fruits sold at higher prices in shops within healthier environments where fruits are better preserved.

“In Nigerian markets there is yet no system to survey foodborne diseases even when several cases of food poisoning, which led to mortality and morbidity have been reported.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are two million reported cases of food poisoning with estimated deaths of 200, 000 people from food poisoning and 20, 000 deaths from exposure to food pesticides annually – children inclusive. Food-borne pathogens (E. coli and Salmonella) were mostly found to be responsible for these deaths. Harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances have also been linked to more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Most of these fatalities occur in children in low income communities whose environmental conditions are very poor,” Nwokolo said.

Underscoring the importance of fruits to the human body, a nutritionist, Daisy Iyeh described fruits and vegetables as nature’s medicines, even though she regretted that most Nigerians do not eat enough fruits.

Iyeh, who advised eating of at least five portions of fruits and vegetables daily, that is three portions of fruits and two portions of vegetables; or two portions of fruits and three portions of vegetables added: “One way to achieve this is to incorporate vegetables in every meal and increase fruit portions through smoothies or replacing snacks with fruits in the course of the day.”

Iyeh also agreed that because fruits and vegetables are mostly eaten raw as over cooking leads to nutrient loss, there is a high risk of food contamination if they are not washed or handled properly.

She added that “In Nigeria for instance, most fruits and vegetables are mostly sold and handled in open and unhygienic circumstances making them fertile breeding grounds for illness causing pathogens and bacteria.”

According to her, it is imperative to wash, clean and peel fruits and vegetables properly prior to immediate consumption.

Iyeh, who shares Nwokolo’s views on fruits preparation before consumption, also provided washing tips for fruits and vegetables.

“Wash your hands and utensils before handling your produce. Wash or soak for a few minutes in clean, potable drinking water. Do not use soaps or detergents to wash your fruits or vegetables. Wipe immediately with a clean towel or paper towel as moisture provides a breeding ground for bacteria. You can also use a vegetable brush to scrub thick-skinned produce like carrots and ginger.

“Distilled water like half a cup of white vinegar and two cups of water can also be used to soak and wash your produce. Warm water can also be used for vegetables that are intended for cooking. Peeled and cut produce that are unused or not consumed should be refrigerated immediately.”


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