It is often said that Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation, is made up of more than 250 ethnic units. In spite of the differences, real and perceived, that exists between all these ethnic groups, there appears to be a common culinary denominator that cuts across them all. This is the penchant for vegetable soup (which in reality are actually stews) eaten with carbohydrates as side dishes.
The list is endless from North to South to East to West to South South. Efò, Ewedu, Afang, Edikang Ikong, Banga, Water Leaf, Bitter Leaf, Ewuro, Fisherman’s Soup, White Soup, Tete, Miyan Kuka, Soko, Akobi, Brassas, Okapi, Ogbono, Oha, Ugba, Editan, Achi…. all tasty irresistible delicacies that can go with Pounded Yam, Amala, Eba, Semovita, Ground Rice, Fufu, Akpu, Loi Loi, Starch, Wheat Meal, Tuwo Shinkafa, Tuwo Masara, There is just something about our national palate for these various kind of soups that seem insatiable.
Nigerians love their soups no doubt about it.
But…..as mouth watering as they are, what needs to be sounded clearly is that these different soups pack a formidable food borne illness punch if they are prepared and consumed without proper handling and processing.
To understand this very well let’s consider the following:
1. During cultivation, especially in the urban areas and during the dry season, these vegetables are irrigated in many cases with water from questionable sources such as heavily polluted sewage water. In addition to these, the use of organic manure like animal dung is widespread in cultivating these vegetables.
2. In order to protect leafy vegetables from losing their turgidity and becoming flaccid and also in order to maintain a fresh appearance, they are often sprinkled with water after harvesting and during exposure in the open market. Invariably the moist condition encourages the growth of microorganisms including pathogenic ones.
3. The poor sanitation of the open markets where these vegetables are sold contributes to direct and indirect contamination. The open table way these vegetables are exposed for sale by sellers in the market further makes them susceptible to contamination.
4. Handling of the vegetables with dirty hands by the sellers also add to the bacterial load on the vegetables.
All these come together to make the local vegetables that are the main ingredients for preparing our national soups a potpourri of pathogenic bacteria that can unleash unimaginable illness when not properly treated and processed before eating.
Simple steps like thorough washing the vegetables in running water rather than washing in a basin full of water, sanitizing, blanching with hot water, cooking to right temperature and stirring the soup properly during cooking to eliminate cool spots, storing leftovers properly or disposing them off where there is no facility to store properly will ensure a safe and enjoyable soup to accompany any swallow of choice.