Sometime ago, fake Maggi Noodles flooded the Nigerian market and as a result, the National Agency For Food and Drugs Administration and Control, NAFDAC, warned Nigerians not to buy a certain brand of noodles called Maggi Noodles produced by Nestlé India. According to the food and drugs regulatory body, the brand of noodles contained excess lead, which kills over 143,000 annually and therefore was unsafe for human consumption.
Also worrisome is the increasing deaths arising from the consumption of dangerous food worldwide. For instance, the World Health Organisation, WHO, disclosed recently that eating food contaminated with bugs and others causes more than half a billion illness annually. It also added that food bugs contributed to about 351,000 deaths in 2010 alone. Undoubtedly, these statistics underline the threat contaminated food poses to the world and thus the urgent need for a well-coordinated action, particularly across the borders and food supply process.
Sadly, due to the growing advancement in technology, food production has become highly industrialised and its trade and distribution have become globalised. This has opened avenues for food to become contaminated with harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites and/or chemicals, which are said to cause more than 200 diseases that are harmful to the body system and these ranges from diarrhoea to cancers.
In addition, findings from initial WHO analysis of Food-borne Disease Burden Epidemiology Reference Group, FERG, from 2010 onward show that there were an estimated 582 million cases of 22 different food-borne enteric diseases and 351,000 associated deaths. The enteric disease agents responsible for most of the deaths were Salmonella Typhi (52,000 deaths), enteropathogenic E.coli (37,000) and norovirus (35,000).
Examples of unsafe food include undercooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces and shellfish containing marine biotoxins and the African region has the highest disease burden for enteric food-borne diseases, followed by South-East Asia. The study also revealed that over 40 per cent of people suffering from enteric diseases as a result of contaminated food are mainly children below the ages of five and Nigerian children are no exception, hence the need for instant action by the government of the day.
We, therefore, call on governments at all levels, especially the health authorities to take the issue of unsafe food more seriously and act proactively to address it in order to protect its citizens. Moreover, since the country has become a net importer of food products from European and Asian countries, NAFDAC should be on alert to ensure that our country is not made a dumping ground for all manner of unwholesome foods from overseas. The agency must live up to its responsibilities and subject all imported food items to laboratory analysis.
It will be recalled that in the recent past, contaminated frozen chicken, fish as well as tomato paste and others were dumped in the Nigerian market without any punitive measures taken on those who put millions of lives in danger. Similarly, we must collectively be on alert against a reoccurrence, particularly against the backdrop of WHO’s warning on the dangers that food bugs pose to our health. NAFDAC should also conduct public enlightenment campaigns on the dangers of consuming contaminated foods and the need to maintain a clean environment during food production.
Besides, health officers at various local governments should be involved in the enlightenment campaigns, which should also be carried out in local dialects to make them more effective in the rural areas.


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