All the major stakeholders should ensure that the food we eat meets minimum standard of safety  

The reported death of 11 family members in Ikobi community, Apa local government area of Benue State of suspected food poisoning deserves a serious attention. Six of the victims died in one day while the remaining five died later in the same week. The traditional ruler of the community also claimed that a similar incident happened a month earlier. It is good that experts were invited from the state ministry of health to investigate the cause of deaths and we hope they will make their report public. As we have consistently reiterated on this page, given the alarming rate at which people, including sometimes a whole family, die after meals, there is an urgent need for public enlightenment on the danger associated with some of the food items we consume.  


That this has become a recurring tragedy in Nigeria explains why the recent claim by a Professor of Food Science and Technology, Alfred Ihenkuronye, that no fewer than 200,000 persons die annually of food poison in Nigeria should compel attention. Indeed, hardly any day pasess without reports of some families dying after eating food that may have been contaminated through improper processing, preservation, and service. “There are many avenues through which foods can be contaminated. And when people eat these foods, they will have problems which may result in deaths,” Ihenkuronye said.  


   Last year in Danzanke village in the Isa Local Government Area of Sokoto State, 24 members of an extended family died after eating a meal suspected to have been seasoned with a poisonous chemical. The two female survivors reportedly “merely tasted the food.”


However, since the causes of these deaths were never accurately determined, it is becoming increasingly clear that some of them could have been caused by wilful contamination. For instance, many of the products smuggled across the borders are harmful because of the way they are preserved. Some of the meat and poultry sold in the open market are reportedly preserved with dangerous chemicals.   

Two years ago, there was panic over beans, a popular staple food. The worry came as result of the public health implications of misapplied chemicals on food stuff. A video had gone viral on how some retailers were using Sniper, a powerful insecticide, to preserve beans before bagging it for sale. The practice is allegedly commonplace, often used to eliminate or protect beans from weevils’ infection. Sniper, a dichlorovinyl, available across the counter, is a dangerous chemical used for killing bugs and insects. Many retailers also use calcium carbide, another dangerous substance used by welders, to ripen banana, and plantain for quick money. It has also been established that other food items like corn, sorghum, apples, and vegetables are improperly preserved or hurriedly ripened with dangerous chemicals.  


The National Orientation Agency (NOA) and other regulatory agencies must ensure proper public awareness on the right use of chemicals. The National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) must be well positioned to live up to its responsibilities. The Agriculture Ministry itself could do a lot better by ensuring that useful and relevant information – from planting to harvesting and preservation- is passed on to farmers and retailers, many of whom are unaware of the risks. It is important that we work to ensure that the food we put on the table by Nigerians meet the minimum standard of safety.  

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