Most abattoirs are sources of food-borne diseases, experts warn
• Number of vets grossly inadequate
Food experts have warned Nigerians to be cautious of food they eat and called on the government to regulate abattoirs as most of them are infested with food-borne pathogens and contribute to public health burdens.
They said this as the World Food Safety Day was celebrated on June 7, with this year’s theme, ‘Safer food, better health,’ highlighting the role that safe, nutritional food plays in ensuring human health and well-being.
A public health specialist at the Department of Veterinary Public Health and Preventive Medicine, University of Ibadan, Prof. (Mrs) Victoria Adetunji, listed errors that could lead to food-borne diseases as cross-contamination, especially between raw and cooked food items and contaminated surfaces; inadequate cooking or reheating of food to eliminate pathogens; preparation of food many hours before consumption, combined with its storage at temperatures which favour growth of pathogenic bacteria and or formation of toxins.
She warned: “Unsanitary abattoirs are sources of food-borne diseases, especially from contaminated meat. There is a need to establish more food safety control laboratories with capacity for pathogen testing, toxins and other contaminants.
“The need to deplore adequate number of veterinarians who are saddled with the responsibility of meat inspection to the various abattoirs in Nigeria cannot be over-emphasised. The current number of veterinarians in abattoirs in Nigeria is currently grossly inadequate.”
She said globally recommended simple keys to wholesome foods include keeping clean, separating raw and cooked foods, cooking thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures and using safe water and raw materials.
Again, Prof. Adetunji listed good practices that fresh food handlers must embrace to ensure safer food as choosing foods processed for safety, saying, “always buy pasteurised as opposed to raw milk.”
She said: “When shopping, keep in mind that food processing was invented to improve safety as well as to prolong shelf-life. Certain foods eaten raw, such as lettuce, need thorough washing.”
She also advised Nigerians to cook their food thoroughly, for many raw foods, such as poultry, beef, eggs and unpasteurised milk, might be contaminated with pathogens. Thorough cooking at least 70 °C, she said, would destroy pathogens
She recommended eating cooked foods immediately, storing cooked foods carefully, reheating cooked foods thoroughly, avoiding contact between raw foods and cooked foods, washing hands repeatedly, keeping all kitchen surfaces meticulously clean, protecting foods from insects, rodents and other animals, and use safe water.
The Dean, Faculty of Science, Lagos State University, Prof. Shehu Latunji Akintola, while shedding light on food safety measures, said in Nigeria, there are unreported cases of foodborne disease and deaths except in cases of outbreaks, such as cholera outbreaks.
The consumption of food contaminated with pathogens is the major cause of foodborne diseases in Nigeria. The prevalence of foodborne pathogens in Nigerian ready-to-eat foods and fresh-cut ready-to-eat fruits is a major concern.
Pathogens implicated in food and foodstuffs in Nigeria include Salmonella spp., Vibrio spp., E. coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Streptococcus, Cryptosporidium oocysts, Shigella spp., Corynebacteria, E. coli, Mucor spp., Proteus mirabilis, Yeast, Enterobacter spp., Pseudomonas, Klebsiella pneumonia, Penicillium spp., Acinetobacter spp.
These pathogens are found in various protein sources such as beef, fish, soup and chicken. Similarly, these pathogens are found in fruits and local drinks, such as watermelon, kunun-zaki and zobo drinks, fermented milk, okpa, peeled orange, eggroll, apple, plantain chips, doughnut, meat pie and cashew nuts, among others.
Prof. Akintola said open display of many of the ready-to-eat food substances is often implicated in the high loads of the pathogens in the food, poor practices from production, distribution, selling or marketing of the food items increase the exposure to pathogens along the value chain.
He said cases of use of contaminated water to wash fruits had always gone viral in the social media.
On prevention and control, he said factors actively promoting the prevalence of food-borne pathogens in Nigeria include low literacy levels of some of the food handlers or vendors, lack of personal and general hygiene, poor environmental sanitation, use of contaminated water in food preparation, and ineffective surveillance and monitoring on the side of agencies and or policy makers saddled with the responsibility of ensuring food security and safety.
He said improving and ensuring good hygiene practice are a business strategy and attitude across the value chains, from production to selling to the final consumer.
He listed hygiene and quality of raw materials and ingredients, hygiene of food preparation, vending premises, equipment and food preparation environment.
Personal hygiene and hygienic methods and practices in the street food sector
He said the government should regulate and control street food quality and apply HACCP principles to analyse street food hazards.
Prof. Bamidele Omitoyin, University of Ibadan, said Nigeria could prevent food-borne diseases through good hygienic practices, such as frequent and thorough washing of hands with soup and water before and or after cooking, going to toilet, sneezing, eating and game.
He advised on proper handling of raw animal products such as beef, fresh fish, poultry products, among others.
“Don’t place food at room temperature for a long period of time because it will allow bacteria to grow and cause foodborne diseases. Cook raw meat and fresh fish at appropriate temperatures.
“Use clean and sanitised utensils, equipment and surfaces for preparing food. This can prevent contamination and spreading of dangerous pathogens,” Omitoyin said.