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Beware! Road side foods cause typhoid fever, hepatitis

FROM the highland to the mainland abound road side food vendors. They exist on the streets, under the bridges, some in planks-built rooms, some in wheel barrows while some are hawked; patronised by different classes of people, the married or single, old and young, men and women.

These ready-to-eat foods are a fast growing business. A 2007 study from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that, 2.5 billion people eat street food every day.
Over the years, food vending has been a means of employment for many even the attendants. People patronise road side foods popularly known as 'buka' or 'canteen' for several reasons, majorly because of the time factor and the varieties sold in these canteens.
Mr Edu Peters is a regular customer at Iya Bisi's Food Canteen on the Lagos Island. Iya Bisi is known for preparing good Amala (yam flour) and other delicacies.
Mr Peters in his early forties said, he works on the Island but lives at Iju, Ifako Ijaiye Local Government Area of Lagos State.
He said, "I have to get to work on time, to avoid querry for late coming and so, I have to visit Iya Bisi canteen. I'm married but I can't wake up by 4am to cook for me, that won't be fair of me and how long would she do that?”
For Sade Akintogun, a spinster said, "Sometimes, I don't feel like cooking and I just have to go to a food canteen.”
The 27 year old lady said, "and of course, you can get varieties at 'Bukas' even at cheap prices.”
According to a study carried out on public health implications in Alice, Eastern Cape Province, South Africa, foodborne pathogens were recovered from Ready-to-Eat foods from roadside cafeterias and retail outlets assessing the microbiological quality of various ready-to-eat foods sold in Alice.
Microbiological analysis was conducted on 252 samples which included vegetables, potatoes, rice, pies, beef and chicken stew. The isolates were identified using biochemical tests and the API 20E, API 20NE and API Listeria kits; results were analyzed using the one-way-ANOVA test. Bacterial growth was present in all the food types tested; high levels of total aerobic count were observed in vegetables, followed by rice, while pies had the lowest count. Interestingly, Salmonella spp. and Escherichia coli were not isolated in any of the samples. There was a statistically significant difference (p < 0.05) in the prevalence of foodborne pathogens from hygienic and unhygienic cafeterias. The results indicated that most of the ready-to-eat food samples examined in this study did not meet bacteriological quality standards, therefore posing potential risks to consumers.
This should draw the attention of the relevant authorities to ensure that hygienic standards are improved to curtain foodborne infections.
Foodborne diseases are an increasingly recognized problem involving a wide spectrum of illnesses caused by bacterial, viral, parasitic or chemical contamination of food. Although viruses account for half of all the foodborne illnesses, most hospitalizations and deaths related to foodborne infections are due to bacterial agents. Diarrheal diseases are the commonest manifestation of food poisoning and in some cases, can lead to death. The diseases are caused by either toxin from the “disease-causing” microbe, or by the human body's reactions to the microbe itself.
Street sold foods are appreciated for their unique flavours and convenience. They also assure food security for low income urban population and livelihood for a significant proportion of the population in many developing countries. However, the unhygienic conditions in which these foods are prepared, stored and served raise a question regarding their microbiological quality. Researchers have investigated the microbiological quality of street vended foods in different countries; high bacterial counts and a high incidence of foodborne pathogens in such foods have been reported.
Contamination of food by enteric pathogens can occur from the farm if human sewage is used to fertilize the soils or if sewage water is used to irrigate the crops. Such risks are further increased if the food is mishandled during processing and preparations where pathogens could multiply exponentially under favorable conditions.
However, no study has been conducted on the microbial quality of the food supplied by local food establishments in Alice. Therefore, the present study was carried out to assess the microbiological quality of various ready-to-eat foods supplied in Alice, in a bid to throw more light on the inherent risk associated with such foods.
Dr Lotachukwu Kanu, a medical expert at the University of Benin Teaching Hospital (UBTH), Benin, Edo State, while speaking with National Daily said, people eating from road side vendors are at risk of food borne diseases.
"The food may not be properly prepared, properly served and stored and may not be in a hygienic environment and they attract salmonella, shigella and canpylobacter. Salmonella leads to typhoid; in essence they can get typhoid fever and other infections that can affect the liver and the digestive system. It can also cause hepatitis which is easily gotten from patronising food vendors.
“It is one of the major risk factors for some types of hepatitis. Apart from this infection, the food can be infested with worms, even the water.”
A food safety expert, Dr Malgwi Usman, speaking recently also advised Nigerians against consuming food sold by roadside vendors to reduce the risk of food and water borne diseases.
Usman, the National Project Coordinator of Food Safety and Hygiene, Africa Hope Foundation (AHF), said that the manner in which such food sold in motor parks and traffic jams were prepared was unwholesome.
“We are in a society where there is no regulation and standardisation of most things, especially in the food sector. This gives room for people to prepare things anyhow, anywhere and with anything. Foods and consumables are prepared in dirty surroundings with unclean utensils and water and flies perch on them anyhow. The packaging and presentation of these foods are also unhygienic and a major threat to life.”
He however called on the government to embark on massive health education campaign to sensitise both the public and food handlers on necessary steps to prevent food and water borne diseases.
“It has become very crucial to institute specific bodies to oversee the people that sell foods and consumables, especially those that sell by the roadside.
“There should be a collaboration of stakeholders like the Federal Ministries of Health, Education, Environment, Agriculture and Rural development, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and Consumer Protection Council.They should be able to come together and develop a framework to monitor, sensitise, enforce and prosecute food handlers who do not keep to the minimum standards of hygiene,'' he said.
According to him, this will go a long way to reduce incidences of food and water borne diseases as well as help the country to achieve some of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).


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