Food-Borne Illness On The Road

Food-borne illness and the symptoms that come with it, even in its mildest form, is a terrible experience to have. The uncontrollable urge to defecate, the turmoil in the tummy, the vomiting, the nausea and fever and chills, the weakness in the body and in many cases the inability to do anything productive (office work, business activity, school work are usually part of the casualties of a food-borne illness experience).

One of the worst scenarios to be hit by food-borne illness, particularly in this part of the world, is when traveling by road especially with public transport. Having food-borne illness when traveling by road in Nigeria can be very tricky. I know a man who openly confessed to me that he once had to quietly empty his bowels again and again on himself where he sat in a bus stuck in the middle of Lagos’ notorious traffic gridlock on his way to the airport to catch an early morning flight one Monday morning. He had tried to hold the urge on till he got to the airport but he couldn’t make it. He narrated how he had to disembark from the bus in front of a petrol station (gas station) halfway into the journey and shuffled towards the toilet facility where he managed to clean himself up and change into a new set of clothes from the packed clothes for his trip. He put this humiliating experience down to the Egusi soup he had for Sunday dinner, that was the last meal he had before the incident.

On interstate long distance trips, FBI (food-borne illness) can be a most unpleasant experience because many times the bus driver will not stop to allow a passenger to relief himself when driving in-between urban areas for security reasons. Truth is, a passenger having food-borne illness on such trips would elicit more of suspicion than sympathy from fellow passengers who will, in all probability, urge the bus driver on. Some luxurious buses now have onboard toilet facilities to cater for passengers needs, whereas many do not.

The assumptions I am portraying is where the FBI is mild. Where the symptoms of the illness are very severe and involves severe stomach cramps and, worse still, vomiting, then that’s bad news altogether for the passenger and other passengers onboard because the bug can be spread easily within the confined space of the vehicle.

Ironically located in most motor parks and bus stations are dodgy canteens and dubious roadside food sellers operating under the most unhygienic conditions where one can effortlessly pick up food-borne illness germs from patronizing them before proceeding on the trip.

The Christmas and New Year period in this country is usually accompanied with a lot of traveling from West to East, North to East, and North to West. Regardless of direction of travel, taking personal responsibility to protect oneself from food-borne illness before during and after the festivities should be paramount in everyone’s mind.

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Celebrating The Year’s End With Care and Caution.

The end of each year is usually associated with lots of celebration and merriment. Christmas parties, New Year parties, Corporate End of Year Parties etc. But with the opportunity to celebrate comes the need for care and caution about what is being eaten.

About this time last December a company in Benin City, Nigeria chose to host the company end of year party and long service award with staff and their families in attendance.

Speeches were given, toasts were given, awards were given to outstanding staff and long serving staff, and retirees were recognized.

A reputable caterer (name withheld) in Benin City was contracted to provide food and drinks for the occasion and there was enough merriment and fun for everyone.

However hours after the party several staff and their family members were down with food-borne illness and with many being admitted to hospital for treatment.

What was meant to be a moment of celebration ended up to be terrifying moments of pain and discomfort. Fortunately there were no fatalities.

Quoting what was reported in the media:

“Staff participated at the occasion and ate the food irrespective of the type eaten some reacted later that day. Some reportedly had issues of recurring stool, while others experienced vomiting alongside the stool. It was obvious from the number of people involved that food poisoning could not be ruled out, though this has not been officially stated to be the case.”

What interested me from the entire episode was that the company management were quick to “suspect foul play” in the aftermath of the incident. That is to say rather than consider the food safety/food hygiene competency of the caterer and investigate if due diligence was carried out by the caterer to prevent an outbreak of food-borne illness, the company management began a witch-sniffing.

Perhaps the only foul play to be considered is inadequate time and temperature control of the food, poor HandWashing practices, insufficient sanitizing and disinfecting of utensils, using same utensils to prepare raw food and ready-to-eat food. Who knows.

As we gear up for this year’s end several parties and celebrations, we need to have it at the back of our minds that a food-borne bacteria may be lurking around the corner. When selecting caterers do not focus only on the kind of delicacies they can provide, or how reliable they are in getting the food ready on time before guests arrive…also ask about their food safety records and competency. Get your catering from a food safety assured source. So you can celebrate the season with peace of mind.