Food Safety Defense Against Ebola Virus Disease

The Ebola Virus Disease blitzkrieg that had swept through Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone reached Nigeria 4 weeks ago and is poised to be one of the most menacing public health challenges we have seen in this country in recent times.

It is well known that the main route of transmission and spread of the Ebola Virus Disease is human to human contact particularly direct contact with blood, bodily fluids, and tissues of infected people or corpse of infected persons.

However eating food, in the form of animals particularly wild animals also known as bush meat that are infected can also result in EVD infection. As a matter of fact the risk of human infection from infected animals isn’t just limited to the consumption of infected animals but the risk also lies in preparation of the animal for food i.e butchering, cutting, washing etc humans can also become infected from blood and fluids from infected bushmeat.

Some of our people may argue that bushmeat is not the first choice delicacy in this country in terms of overall popularity, nevertheless the fact that some folks do love to eat bushmeat highlights that food safety practices have a role to play in preventing the spread of this disease.

The WHO (World Health Organization) information note on Ebola and Food Safety released on 24th of August points out the role of food safety in the fight against ebola by stating that if food products are properly prepared and cooked, humans cannot become infected by consuming them: the Ebola virus is inactivated through cooking.

The information note mentioned that basic hygiene measures can prevent infection in people in direct contact with infected animals or with raw meat and by-products. Such measures include regular hand washing and changing of clothes and boots before and after touching these animals and their products. However, sick and diseased animal should never be consumed.

Propagating food hygiene, personal hygiene, and food safety behaviors amongst the populace thus will give additional help in prevent the spread of EVD in Nigeria.

Dealing With Cholera Joints: What’s The Best Approach?

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I stumbled upon them last weekend in, surprisingly of all places, Victoria Island one of the most “highbrowed” neighborhoods in Lagos. Rows upon rows of street food vendors with patrons hustling to get the attention of the food seller and jostling for a place to sit with their plates of indescribably cheap food. Welcome to what I would call “Cholera Alley” or “Cholera Cul de Sac”. Not the most enviable place to have your lunch except you are amongst the many Lagosians living below the poverty level of less than a dollar a day.

Popularly called Cholera Joints, they are familiar sights in this country, especially in urban centers. Preparing and selling food under the most unhygienic circumstances, these roadside food vendors have gained notoriety as public health menaces, perhaps the number one public health menace in our urban society. Sometimes late last year four persons died in Lagos, from what the Lagos State Ministry of Health confirmed to be cholera, after patronizing roadside food vendors like these.

I was told that the term “Cholera Joint” was coined on Nigerian University and Polytechnic campuses many years ago to describe those low life cafeterias with plank and plywood walls and pot-holed concrete floors situated on the fringes of campus society where food is sold cheap and usually patronized by those students who couldn’t afford the opulent restaurants located in the Student Union Building.

These dodgy canteens were aptly named cholera joints by students because except you are extremely lucky you stand the chance of bagging a dose of vibrio cholerae, the causative agent of cholera, in addition to the cheap meal you pay for. As it is “Cholera joints” are not limited to campuses, the entire society is dotted with them, encouraged and spurred on by the high poverty levels in the land and further enhancing the public health burden of food-borne illnesses.

The public health problem of street food vendors is not limited to Nigeria, it’s a phenomenon common to developing countries. The question is how should this problem be addressed here in Nigeria?

Should there be an outright clamp down on them? I don’t think this strategy will work for three simple reasons:
1. These vendors are so widespread that it is next to impossible to locate them all to implement any effective clamping down exercise, and because they are very mobile with few fixed assets it will be easy to avoid being detected.
2. Secondly clamping down outrightly may cause social upheaval no matter how minor it will be anyway. It can be viewed as the rich again taking it out on the poor, a regular sentiment in our classed Nigerian society because majority of the poor depend on street food as restaurants are beyond their reach.
3. Street food vending has significant economic relevance. It occupies a large portion of Nigeria’s informal business sector and may be too important to outrightly clamp down on for this reason.

Another option is to legislate and regulate their activities. This would have been an effective strategy if the appropriate government commitment especially at the state and local government levels is present and also if there is availability of resources to monitor compliance to regulations and legislations. The first is very questionable and the second is doubtful because of how widespread and ubiquitous these food sellers exist all over the urban areas.

A third option is to reach out to these street food vendors and engage them in awareness campaigns, teaching them basic food hygiene practices that will protect their patrons and themselves, helping them to understand the benefits of improved hygiene and sanitation and where possible providing basic infrastructure for them such as food warmers, brooms, napkins, soaps, etc. Now this approach will naturally be painstaking and requires patience and persistence. Each roadside food vendor needs to be convinced and convinced thoroughly of the need for change and there are hundreds of thousands of them dotting the landscape. But it can be done, resulting in a win-win situation for government, the food vendors themselves and their customers.

This third option can be effectively pursued by NGOs with adequate fundings and grants and this is part of the objectives of Food-Borne Illness Prevention Initiative to reduce the public health burden of food borne illness in the society.

Soup Safety

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.

More Than Meets The Eye

“there is more to food borne illness than the frequent commute to the toilet or to the local pharmacy down the street.”

In many quarters in this country, the outcome of a person with food borne illness is simply viewed as having the nasty and unpleasant symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, tiredness, stomach upsets for a period of time after which recovery sets in with or without medical treatment and the victim gets back on with life. Or, less acknowledged, outright death and fatality of victims.

But there is an ominous and little known aspect of food borne illness that began to be considered some five years ago which may aggrandize the public health burden of food borne illness globally, Nigeria inclusive. This is the Long-Term Health Outcomes of Selected Foodborne Pathogens.

The Center for Foodborne Illness Research & Prevention (CFI), a US based non profit research and advocacy organization, released a report in 2009 that placed the spotlight on the long-term health consequences of five foodborne illnesses pathogens: Campylobacter, E. coli O157:H7, Listeria monocytogenes, Salmonella, and Toxoplasma gondii.

According to the report, serious life-long complications like hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS), the leading cause of acute kidney failure in children; paralysis; seizures; reactive arthritis; hearing/visual impairments and mental retardation have been associated one way or the other with these food borne pathogens.

To read the full report click here: CFI LTHO REPORT

Even though the authors of the report acknowledged that “this long-term health burden of foodborne disease is not well understood” and “additional research is needed to improve our knowledge about these diseases”. The study counters the common public perception that food borne illness is basically limited to the symptoms previously mentioned above and in rare cases fatalities.

That is to say there is more to food borne illness than the frequent commute to the toilet or to the local pharmacy down the street.

A 2012 case of a 7 year old girl that was left brain damaged and paralyzed from food poisoning in Australia sort of validates the hypothesis raised in the CFI report. To read the full story of this incident click here: Girl Paralyzed By Food Poisoning Traced To KFC Chicken

The implication of this for Nigerians is that our public health system, inadequate and already getting overwhelmed as it is, will yet have to cope with additional burden if the food borne illness problem isn’t addressed as a matter of great priority.

A pragmatic preventative approach to address the problem of food borne illness in this country through enforcing existing food safety legislations, Local Governments rising up to their statutory responsibilities of food business inspections, and most importantly continually creating public awareness about the food borne illness problem to counter the dearth of public awareness of this problem will spare our public health management system additional burdens that it simply cannot bear at this moment.

To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

I remember the first time I ate out at a fast food outlet. It was with my mum and brother at a place called Kingsway Rendezvous sometimes in the mid 1980s. At that time eating out hadn’t caught up as a favorite pastime, and the idea of fast food outlets was still in its infancy in Nigeria and limited to major cities like Lagos, Ibadan, & Port Harcourt.

But now almost 30 years afterwards, fast food outlets of various shades and grades litter the nation’s landscape. From the major players with franchises in almost every major city to the small town new entrants.

It appears many of these fast food outlets essentially pay very little thoughts to keeping a food safety/hygiene regimen and are more concerned on increasing the profit margin of the business. The idea of checking temperature of food, providing thermometers, using sanitizers, using color coded chopping boards, and even food handlers training and medical tests are viewed as overheads that can be conveniently avoided to push up the profit margin, particularly because there is no effective monitoring and enforcement body in the country. Very few local governments enforce their statutory duties of food business inspection for sanitation and hygiene compliance. The low pay and high turnover rate of fast food outlet workers doesn’t help either such that new staff are always needed to replace those that leave and training new staff again and again and again can be seen as unnecessary expenditure.

In other words there is always a food borne illness risk exposure every time one eats at these fast food outlets.

So how would one know where to eat or not to eat in order to minimize the risk of food-borne illness?

Eating from a recognized brand outlet is good guide. Or eating at an upscale outlet could tend to give an assurance of safe food. Or eating at an outlet with a track record of zero food-borne illness complaints. Or eating at an outlet with well designed and clean and well decorated sitting tables & chairs. All these are good guides, but they may let one down eventually cuz looks and appearance of the sitting areas and serving points doesn’t give a true picture of the state of where the food itself is prepared and track records have a way of failing unexpectedly.

One way that I typically determine if a fast food outlet or restaurant is ok for me to eat out is to “case the toilet” as in like to “case a joint”. That is to check out the state of the toilet facility of the food business. The state of the toilet in a food business facility is usually a reflection of the state of the kitchen where the food is coming from, which in many a cases is hidden away from the view of the customers.

A clean toilet with well stocked hand wash liquid soap, well fragranced, running water and a cleaning schedule posted on the wall of the toilet is indicative of a food business with good hygiene, cleanliness, and sanitation culture and values. And this you can be sure extends to the kitchen hygiene and sanitation.

However a toilet with broken door handle/knobs, exposed light bulbs, leaking hand wash tap, stained hand wash sink, broken toilet cover, empty soap dispenser, depleted toilet paper, no cover on the toilet WC, bad flushing handle, water puddle on the floor, cracked tiles and ceiling cover, and with no cleaning schedule visibly displayed is a red flag to me any day any time. I can bet you on your dollar that such a place will have a kitchen with poor hygiene and sanitation standards with high risk of food-borne illness.

Before you check out the menu at the serving line, check out the toilet first. This may spare you the trouble of frequent trips to your own toilet when you get back home!

To “case a joint” is an idiomatic expression which means: to check out the details to, and make speculations about, a home, car, store or other location by looking the place over. Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com

Know Thine Enemy & Know Thyself

Know Thyself & Know Thine Enemy

Sun Tzu

In the fight against food-borne illness, *Sun Tzu’s quote “know thine enemy and know thyself” is a good dictum to follow.

Why? Because in numerous kitchens (commercial kitchens, domestic kitchens in homes, and even communal village open-space kitchens) across the length and breadth of this country, the bugs that cause food-borne illness have been doing a lot of damage to the health and well-being of the public, and places considerable burden on the public health in Nigeria. Aided by ignorance of the populace, these pathogens seem to be having a field day. To turn the tide of this fight, folks need to know these germs, know how they infect, know the foods they are commonly associated with, know how they affect human health, and know how they can be curbed.

I have tried to profile five important food borne illness causative bugs in Nigeria in simple layman’s language as part of increasing awareness of these bugs, how they operate, and how they can be checkmated.

1. Vibrio Cholerae – Count for count, this food borne & water-borne bug has done more damage to public health in Nigeria than any other food borne illness bug.

To understand this check out my posts of 7th December and 22nd December titled 2013 Cholera Outbreak and Chronicling Cholera’s Carnage Parts 1 & 2 respectively.

Vibrio cholerae, the bug that causes cholera, is transmitted by consuming contaminated water or food washed or prepared with contaminated water or food prepared by a person sick with cholera.

Once the bug gets into the intestine of its victims it multiplies rapidly and secretes cholera toxin, it’s the toxin that does the damage by causing the intestine to release plenty of fluid that leads to its trademark symptoms; a sudden onset of watery stools and diarrhea. If not quickly treated the victims loose a lot of fluid from the body and die from dehydration. The suddenness of the watery stools and diarrhea is the characteristic of vibrio cholerae.

Hand-washing practices, properly boiling water before use, cooking food thoroughly, proper environment sanitation, use of latrines and toilets instead of open defecating are all ways of countering this bug.

2. Salmonella Spp – Salmonella bacterium is another major cause of food borne illness in Nigeria. The bug is transmitted by eating contaminated foods especially food of animal origin  i.e meat, poultry, eggs, milk. However fresh produce and vegetables have also been implicated in salmonella outbreaks. The bug gets into the food chain from infected livestock and animals where the livestock has been fed with salmonella contaminated animal feed. Fresh produce are contaminated when they are irrigated with sewage water containing salmonella or fertilized with animal manure of infected animals.

Food implicated in salmonella food borne illness in Nigeria are eggs (cracked eggs & eggs smeared with feaces), edible snails, roasted chicken sold by roadside vendors, improperly cooked chicken, local soft cheese “wara”, unpasteurized (raw) milk sold as fura-de-nunu, local sandwich and local salad. The salmonella bug was isolated in fillings from sandwiches that caused an outbreak of food borne illness in Ibadan that claimed about 20 lives some years ago.

In healthy adults the bugs needs to be consumed in large numbers to cause illness, but in the young and elderly a small dose is enough to cause trouble. Even though majority of the ingested bug gets destroyed in the stomach by gastric acid, the ones that survive and pass into the intestine and multiplies there resulting in the symptoms of diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps usually between 12 – 72 hours after ingesting the bug. The illness may last 4-7 days. Serious forms of the illness can lead to fatality when the bugs spread from the intestines to the blood stream and then to other body organs especially in the young, elderly, or the sick.

Cooking food at temperatures at 75C for is sufficient to kill the bugs. Other means of preventing the bug from infecting is by avoiding cross contamination of the bug from raw food to other food i.e. not using same utensils (chopping boards, knives, work surface) for raw foods and ready to eat foods without thoroughly washing with soap and hot water, separating raw foods from ready to eat food in storage in fridge, ensuring proper cleanliness in the kitchen, and thorough washing and sanitizing fresh produce before eating.

3. Listeria monocytogenes – A contaminant found in Nigerian foods like smoked fish, kilishi (sun-dried & partially roasted seasoned meat slices), kununzaki (fermented sorghum drink), wara (local soft cheese popular in South West Nigeria), and unpasteurized (raw) milk sold as fura-de-nunu, Listeria monocytogenes, the bug that causes Listeriosis also referred to as L.Mono, is an uncanny food borne illness bug. Uncanny in the sense that unlike most food borne illness causing bugs, L.Mono can survive and even grow at temperature as low as 0C such that it multiplies even when food is refrigerated.

Naturally existing in soil, water and vegetation from where it gets into the food chain, L.Mono can be destroyed in food by proper cooking and pasteurizing. It’s symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, fever, and muscle aches which may begin to manifest as short as few hours to as long as 3 months after ingestion (for the very severe type). Where you see the normal symptoms of food borne illness accompanied with aches at the knees and elbows as well as stiff neck, it’s probably L.Mono at work.

Healthy adults are rarely affected by L.Mono, it’s aged/elderly persons, pregnant women, newborns, and adults with weakened immune systems that are the groups mostly at risk of this bug. And of this group pregnant women are the highest number of its victims where the bug passes from the intestine into the blood and becomes blood borne affecting the fetus resulting in miscarriage or stillbirth.

Infection by L.mono can be prevented by cooking food thoroughly to safe temperatures, by washing and proper handling of food before eating, keeping kitchen environment clean, proper handwashing, separating raw food from ready to eat food, avoiding cross contamination, and avoid eating the high risks foods as listed above.

4. Staphylococcus aureus – This bug by itself is harmless and occurs naturally on skin, hair as well as nose and throats of humans and animals. However when it gets into food it rapidly multiplies and secretes very potent toxins into the food. The major source of contamination is from food handlers and food preparers.

Once it has multiplied and produced the toxins into the food, heating treatment or cooking of the food makes no difference anymore because the toxins are very heat stable and are not easily destroyed by heat. So cooking food that has been colonized by staph aureus may destroy the bugs themselves but the toxins survive and when the food is eaten the toxins cause the illness with symptoms of vomiting, diarrhea, nausea and stomach pains typically one to six hours after ingestion of the toxin and this may last between 24 – 48 hours before it subsides.

Staph aereus need time to multiply in food to the dangerous levels that are sufficient to cause illness. Leaving food unrefrigerated for a short period gives it the chance to do this.

Moi-Moi (bean pudding), Agidi (Fermented Corn Meal), Abacha (African Salad), Suya (Roasted Meat) and similar hand prepared meals are examples of Nigerian foods implicated in staph food borne illness.

Ways to prevent staph infection are avoiding time and temperature abuse of food, proper handwashing before food preparation, not allowing food handlers (and children’s nannies & caregivers) with open sores/boils/wounds/long fingernails/skin infections/nose & eye infection to prepare food, avoid coughing and sneezing unto food, eating food immediately after preparation, rapid chilling and cold storage of food to prevent multiplication of the bug in food.

5. Aspergillus flavus – Aspergillus flavus, unlike the previous four bugs above, is not a bacteria but a fungus found in food like maize, groundnuts, sorghum, groundnuts that produce poisonous toxin. This toxin can be very dangerous when ingested and cause aflatoxicosis. It has been reported to causes liver cancer, suppresses the immune system, and retards the growth and development of children.

Even though the toxin is invisible to the naked eye, the bugs can be discerned in crops by a characteristic mould green color.

Prevention of aflatoxicosis begins at the farm by treating the crops to kill the bugs and also during storage. Infected crops are usually destroyed to prevent human consumption. However some of these infected crops inevitably enters the food chain as Agidi, the peanut paste used to prepare Kilishi, Kuli-Kuli (local snack made from fermented groundnut), Yaji (the spice that accompanies Suya) and when livestock eat feed contaminated with Aspergillus flavus.

The toxins produced by the Aspergillus bug are not affected by routine cooking temperatures, but simple food preparation methods such as sorting, washing, crushing, and dehulling may reduce aflatoxin levels (Public Health Strategies for Preventing Aflatoxin Exposure 2005).

These five food borne illness pathogens, along with other such pathogens not profiled in this post, have collectively brought a huge burden on the public health system of this country.

*Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, military strategist, and author of The Art of War, an immensely influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. (Source: http://www.wikiquote.org)

Don’t Mishandle Me

If food could speak, these three words would probably be their motto. On a daily basis in this country, food is regularly mishandled. When I talk of mishandling food I mean carelessly handling food before eating.

I read about an outbreak of food-borne illness that occurred years ago in Ibadan, Nigeria, that claimed 20 lives. The outbreak resulted from sandwiches that were poorly handled. It was reported that the sandwiches were prepared in Lagos and kept without refrigeration until consumption the next day at Ibadan. When food is mishandled like this, it responds by baring its fangs with disastrous and often fatal consequences.

Mishandling of food occurs in many forms in homes and food businesses:

  • Leaving left-over food unrefrigerated to eat the next day or even several days after.
  • Defrosting frozen food on the kitchen shelf at room temperature.
  • Buying frozen food from the market (or supermarket) and not heading home straight to store in freezer.
  • Inadequate and improper heating of food.
  • Leaving food exposed and uncovered.
  • Preparing food with unwashed hands.
  • Preparing food too far in advance.
  • Using same utensils to prepare raw food and ready to eat food.
  • Keeping or storing ready-to-eat foods like cold sandwiches and salads at room temperature

These are all examples of poor food handling. Many folks do these things inadvertently and unknowingly but this doesn’t spare them the heart ache and ill health that results from it.

At a time when I was handling inflight catering for an airline, we served onboard an egg & mayo sandwich option on the breakfast menu. Nicely packaged in plastic sandwich packs it was a hit with passengers on the early morning domestic flights out of Lagos. But there was a problem; passengers were actually taking the sandwiches off with them when they disembarked at their destination. Why this was a problem was that egg & mayonnaise are highly perishable and high risk food that needs to be held in the chill chain to keep safe to eat and we weren’t sure how passengers were handling the sandwiches after the flight. We were concerned that someone would turn up later on to claim that he got food poisoning from the airline’s sandwich. My boss at that time, Paul Sharp (am certain he will get to read this post soon) decided we had to include a caveat note on the packaging of the sandwich strongly advising passengers that the sandwich be consumed on board during the flight.

Don’t Mishandle Me…that’s a warning that is wise to heed from food & drinks.

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.

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.

2013 Cholera Outbreak

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For weeks I have been following the trend of the recent cholera outbreak in this country.

Cholera is a water-borne illness that can be transmitted mostly by consuming contaminated water or when contaminated water comes in contact with food materials and is ingested.

This year’s cholera outbreak, which is reported as the worst in recent years, peaked in October/November and now appears to be on the decline. But sadly it has left in its wake 124 deaths from 2771 cases nationwide as reported by the Federal Ministry of Health. That’s 124 meaningful lives cut short by a preventable food-borne illness, 124 persons that have left behind loved ones to mourn their loss.

Another sad episode of the devastating tale of food-borne illness in Nigeria.

More sad is the fact that this is bound to repeat itself again.

Why do I say so.

Because you only need to follow the trend of occurrence and see that the hardest hit communities are almost always the rural areas where government footprints in terms of the basic infrastructures required to stave of this food-borne and water-borne illness are either completely inadequate or almost non-existent.

Like someone wrote online recently “Put in simple terms. Show me a community where people are dying of cholera, I will show you one where there is neither access to portable drinking water nor proper sanitation.”

What this means is that as long as adequate safe water and proper sanitation facilities/services are not  available in these rural areas, the residents of these areas might as well begin to brace up for another bout of cholera outbreak even as they are yet  counting their losses from the one that just subsided.

However NGOs like Food-Borne Illness Prevention Initiative can blunt the edge of the inevitable sword of another cholera outbreak through educating the populace on proper household/personal hygiene practices and other food-borne illness prevention practices.