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

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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.