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Friday, September 23, 2016

How we are exposed to Food Poisoning

Written by: Azoma chikwe

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Just a little caution on the source of food we eat is what we need to avert poisoning. The fact is, our bodies are capable of handling most of what we ingest. However, there are some unbreakable rules, when it comes to food safety. Taking shortcuts with those rules can be regrettable.

For example, eating raw or undercooked meat or poultry, enjoying improperly washed fruits and vegetables, indulging in sun – warmed potato salad, and feasting on a host of other foods can open the door to a potentially life – threatening case of food poisoning.

In Nigeria, diseases from food poisoning account for about 70 per cent of gastro intestinal diseases. And the diseases can be so many like hepatitis, cholera, dysentery, typhoid fever etc. Foodborne illness, more commonly referred to as food poisoning, is the result of eating contaminated, spoiled, or toxic food. The most common symptoms of food poisoning include nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Although it is quite uncomfortable, food poisoning is not unusual.

Despite well publicized guidelines about food safety and inspections at restaurants and food – processing centers, government researchers estimate that Americans have 76 million food – borne illnesses each year, sending 325,000 people to the hospital and killing 5,000 in the process.

A study conducted in the United Kingdom found that one in four samples of chicken bought from major British supermarkets contained antibiotic – resistant E – coli. The shocking Cambridge University research raised new fears about the safety of meat sold even in highbrow supermarkets and departmental stores.

Antibiotic – resistant strains of food poisoning bacteria E.coli are responsible for the death of over 5,500 people a year in England alone. In Nigeria, the countless slums that dot the cities make matters worse. Houses in the slums are wooden structures erected – over flowing and stagnant swamps. The road are wooden bridges and because most slums are built on water, the need for septic tanks appear unnecessary.

Faeces and urine are emptied into water which dissolves the faecal matter and release disease – causing microbes into the environment. These micro – organisms infect food and the nation finds herself in a vicious cycle of cholera, diarrhea outbreaks and dysentery and typhoid fever.

Incidentally, residents of slums don’t feed themselves alone. They also provide snacks, fruits, vegetables and fast foods for majority of the populace. Many of the snacks and foods hawked at bus stops, Moto parks, schools were prepared under unhygienic circumstances in these slums. People who live in slums want to earn a living and perhaps hawking of snacks, foods and fruits come handy for them because the start – up capital for such trade is small.
Woman selling food in a Slum
A research was conduct and along the line, a slum in Lagos was visited to help ascertain facts. The researchers saw a popular local delicacy most urban dwellers find hard to resist being prepared in the open a few meters from a makeshift toilet that empties directly into the water. When it is ready for sale, the destination of such snacks would be either the road – side, a park, a school, a traffic jam and ready for anybody to buy.

That case study is an example of several snacks hawked on the streets but prepared in unhygienic circumstances. Consultant Surgeon, Dr. Emmanuel Enabulele, said “if you want to put a figure to it, diseases from slums can account for 70% of gastro – intestinal diseases in our environment. And the disease can be so many like hepatitis, cholera, dystentry, typhoid fever etc.”

Slum in Lagos
On people who produce food in slums, Enabulele said, “the problem is lack of capacity to do it in a better environment. The food peddler is aware of the consequences, but she feels there is nothing she can do about it, she has to earn a living.

Though, most of what they produce are for low income group. Most of the diseases they cause are chronic. In fact, they are so endemic, you can’t talk of epidemic outbreak, you see them on daily basis.

Common types of Food poisoning.
Staphylococcus aureus food poisoning
Dr. Emmanuel Enabulele, said, “The common type of food poisoning is staphylococcus aureus food poisoning. The food looks okay, when you eat, after sometime you have cramps in your stomach.

Fecal – Oral food poisoning
There are those we can get from food contamination, which is called fecal – oral food poisoning because of unhygienic preparation, contaminated environment. It lead to diarrhea, cholera outbreaks, dysentery and water – borne diseases.

How food become contaminated.
Pathogens can be found on almost all foods consumed. However, heat from cooking usually kills pathogens on food before it reaches our plate. Foods eaten raw are common sources of food poisoning, because they do not go through the cooking process.

Occasionally, food will come in contact with the organisms in faecal [unhygienic] matter. This most commonly happens when people preparing food don’t wash their hands before cooking. That is why people should be careful where they eat, where they buy, what they eat. Meat, eggs, and diary product are frequently contaminated. Water may also be contaminated with organisms that cause illness.

Even in fast food centers, we still see E – coli contamination. And in canned food, we get clostridium botulinium poisoning. It enters canned food during food processing. These types are not common in our environment like cholera, dysentery etc. Any food can be contaminated, depending on handling, both locally produced and imported. There was a time there was cucumber poisoning in Germany, it was poisoned by E – coli, the cucumber which was imported were all withdrawn. So food poisoning can happen anywhere.

Good handling behaviors can help someone avoid poisoning. Separate raw meats from other foods by using different cutting boards. Clean kitchen surfaces, utensils and hands with soap and water while preparing food. Cook foods to the right temperature by using a food thermometer. Chill raw and prepared foods promptly.

Those at Risk of Food poisoning.
Anyone can come down with food poisoning. Statistically speaking, nearly everyone will come down with food poisoning at least once in their lives. There are some populations that are more at risk than others. Anyone with a suppressed immune system or an autoimmune disease may have a greater risk of infection and a higher risk of complications resulting from food poisoning.


According to experts, pregnant women are more at risk because their bodies are coping with changes to their metabolism and circulatory system during pregnancy. Elderly individuals also face a greater risk of contracting food poisoning because their immune system may not respond quickly to infectious organisms. Children are also considered at risk because their immune system are not developed as adults.

If someone has food poisoning, chances are it won’t go undetected. Symptoms can vary depending on the source of the infection. Common cases of food poisoning will typically include at least three of the following symptoms: abdominal cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, mild fever, weakness, nausea and headache.

Symptoms of potentially life – threatening food poisoning include diarrhea persisting for more than three days, a fever higher than 101.5°F, difficulty seeing or speaking, symptoms of severe dehydration, which may include dry mouth, passing little or no urine and difficulty keeping fluids down. If somebody experiences any of these symptoms, a doctor should be contacted immediately.

Doctors may be able to diagnose the type of food poisoning based on the symptoms. In severe cases, blood and stool tests, as well as tests on food that the patient ate may be conducted to determine what is responsible for the food poisoning.
A urine test may be used to evaluate whether or not an individual is dehydrated as a result of food poisoning.

How to curb this Food poisoning Menace.
·                 The school is one of the destination for these food sellers. School owners should have to screen food vendors that sell to the children and where they prepare what they sell. To ensure it’s being prepared in a healthy environment. Other public and private institutions should emulate such.
·                 For the general public, if there is an outbreak, there should be contact tracing. For instance, if you buy apple, eats it and develop symptoms, you go back to the apple seller and find out where she got the apple and where she stores them.
·                 The government should involve in dispatching health inspection teams to monitor the food sellers closely. The government can create an alternative avenue for food vendors to produce their goods and foods.

·                 Finally, we should be careful where we eat, where we buy, what we eat.

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