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NIMR champions efforts to ensure production of safe, healthy foods

By Abigail Ikhaghu
12 May 2022   |   3:49 am
To stop the over 600 million persons who fall ill and more than 400,000 others that die yearly from eating contaminated foods, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research...

To stop the over 600 million persons who fall ill and more than 400,000 others that die yearly from eating contaminated foods, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) has officially flaged off its health advocacy/research and screening of food handlers and consumers from selected Local Government Areas (LGAs) in Lagos State.

The event took place on May 5, 2022, at the NIMR auditorium, Yaba Lagos. Director General (DG) of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Lawal Salako, said it is important for food handlers to maintain personal hygiene and imbibe the practice to ensure they produce healthy foods for public consumption.

Salako said, “We know that especially in Lagos, a lot of people leave home very early and get back home very late, that means that they will take one or two meals outside the home. Most of us will engage different kind of food sellers ranging from roadsides to those who are hawking and those that are well established in the bukkas, all categories and manner of food sellers in a state that is choked and highly populated.

“Nobody is tasting those foods to know if it is certified and safe to eat, even the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) cannot give its number to all hawkers on the street, so we have danger that is coming from roadside foods.

“Prevention they say is better than cure, so what we must do regularly is to ensure adequate screening for people who cook for the public to eat, train them and let them know how they can reduce disease burden through the processes that they carry out.”

Salako said the training of food handlers is free of charge, as the Speaker, Federal House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila, through his constituency project, has sponsored the project.

He said, “ The training will start from Gbajabiamila’s constituency, which is Surulere Local Government Area (LGA) and it will spread to other selected LGAs in Lagos State.

“The idea of this programme is to look at the processes in which public food handlers cook and how clean they carry out their activities, we will also examine the food handlers themselves to determine if they are actual carriers of these diseases or not.

“From whatever we see, we can then train the people to improve on their processes so people who patronise them are ensure disease/germ-free foods.

“Many food handlers may not have been trained properly in the aspect of food safety for consumption, we have to train them to improve food safety and also food security in Nigeria”.

Furthermore, he promised that the stakeholders of these initiative will ensure that they come up with these screenings and trainings from time to time because as people goes out of the business, new ones come in, therefore it has to become a regular screening programme.

“We do not do regulatory duties as regulatory duties of food belongs to NAFDAC and I am sure NAFDAC has its own plans, but for us this is a research opportunity to provide information for public health use, for government to come up with relevant policies,” he said.

Dr. Toyosi Raheem, who gave the project over-view, said that it is very important for individuals to be very careful of what they eat and drink, as food is a very important aspect of the causes of diseases.

Raheem said that there is critical need to access food providers as 90 per cent of deaths recorded in Africa are caused by diseases; the other 10 per cent are caused by other factors, like accidents and the likes.

He revealed that the project started in 2018 but nothing could be done significantly because of scarcity of funds. “We have about five local governments on board now with Surulere topping the list.

“There are team of doctors and nurses on the project, if there are any abnormalities detected from all those samples collected from the food handlers then we will refer them for clinical interventions,” Raheem said.

Chairman of the occasion, Dr. Mobolaji Obadeyi, who is a member of Governing Board, Lagos State Primary Healthcare Board, said in her speech that good food saves life and access to good and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting health.

Mobolaji who is also the Chief Medical Officer, Deloitte and Touche Nigeria, said: “Everybody eats everyday, if we are doing food right then it means we are doing something right every day, but if we are doing food wrong then it means that we are taking a risk every day.”

She added, “Food safety is the handling, preparation and storing of food in a way that best reduce the risk of individuals to come in sick for food borne illnesses. Food safety is a global concern and it covers the variety of everyday life.

“Food safety has helped our economic and even security implications. This health advocacy on food safety is very important in a place like Lagos that houses more than 22 million people who are constantly on the road, Lagos is almost a country within a country so we should take everything that concerns Lagos seriously.

“I implore all food handlers to adequately wash their hands at all times and participate fully in this screening so we can together improve the health of Lagosians and Nigerians at large.”

Director of research, NIMR, Prof. Stella Smith, who spoke on the topic, ‘Storage Facilities and Ready to Eat Food: Challenges and Solutions’, said that one of the reasons why NIMR decided to start this symposium is the fact that a lot of food handlers possibly do not know how to go about handling food properly, proper food storage and what they are supposed to do in food processing and food production.

Smith said, “The essence of this programme is also to educate them on the importance of keeping good personal hygiene so they do not have diseases that they could possibly transfer to their customers.

“We are also educating them on how long they are to keep certain foods at certain temperatures. Some of them are not aware that some food should be kept chilled and not to be left at normal room temperature”.

Smith revealed that there would be consistent trainings of food handlers as this would not be the last of the training.

“Those who have been trained, our message to them is to go ahead and implement all they have learnt here because it makes no sense if you are being trained in something and at the end of the day, you do not implement them,” she said.

Also, to mark this year’s World Hand Hygiene Day, which is celebrated yearly on May 5, medical experts has cried out for the need for masses to ensure they wash their hands at all times, because hand washing has a general advantage of keeping the body safe and preventing diseases from entering into the body through the hand.