Food poisoning has been a recurring challenge among people. Deadly cases do not only land victims in hospital but also result in death. Over time, many lives have been lost to food poisoning-related cases. Not only individuals have died of food poisoning, but whole families have also been wiped out by the menace. The saga has not only remained a trend but has also assumed a worrisome dimension, following the increased death toll in some parts of the country, especially in the last year.
Medical experts have attributed the menace to food contamination, unhygienic food storage, preservation of food with unapproved chemicals, poor hygiene culture, microorganisms-related contamination, consumption of local herbal mixture and other factors.
A professor of Food Science and Technology, Alfred Ihenkuronye, had disclosed that about 200,000 persons died annually of food poison in Nigeria. He attributed the death incidents to food contamination.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) says that unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases ranging from diarrhea to cancer.
Many products smuggled across the borders are harmful due to poor preservation culture. Some fish, meat and poultry products sold in the open markets are preserved with dangerous chemicals. Other staple foods such as beans, gari, cassava flour are contaminated with misapplied agrochemicals. Reports have said that some retailers use sniper, a very powerful insecticide used for killing bugs and insects, to preserve beans before bagging them for sale. While the intention is to protect the product from weevils infection, unsuspecting consumers’ lives are put at risk.
Other food items like banana, apples, plantains, banana, corn, sorghum are not only forcefully and hurriedly ripened with dangerous chemicals to maximize profits, but also improperly preserved.
Our correspondents gathered that some chemicals that were banned 12 years ago as well as those considered by NAFDAC from being sold in open markets are still available in markets. The chemicals are used against the approved duration when their potency would have waned. Worryingly too, those that sell and even those that apply the chemicals which include fungicide, pesticide, herbicides are not only illiterates but also don’t have any basic training to do so.
In 2008, NAFDAC, under the leadership of the late Dr Dora Akunyili as the Director-General, NAFDAC banned supply and sale of some agrochemical when it discovered that the pesticides were causing food poisoning and was resulting in multiple deaths.
The agency said Nigerians should stop using agrochemicals that were not approved by it and should stop the practice of using gammallin to harvest fish.
Some of the banned pesticides included aldrin, binapacryl, captafol, chlordane, chlordimeform, DDT, dieldrin, dinoseb, parathion, heptachlor and lindane.
Others included phosphamidon, monocroptophos, toxaphene, endrin, delta HCF, ethylene oxide and others.
Though there have been several reported cases of food poisoning tragedies in the country over the years, Daily Trust Saturday reports that since 2017 till date, different states have suffered food poisoning tragedies.
According to available data, Umuokpara Umanu, Obollo community in Isiala Mbano Local Government Area of Imo State and Umuategwu Community, Okija, in Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State recorded five deaths each in July and August respectively. Both cases were due to rice meals.
In November 2018, Kwara State also recorded four death cases in the Magaji-Ogo community in Ilorin West Local Government Area after the victims consumed amala.
Four people also died in Amaechara Village in Afikpo North Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in May 2019 after dinner.
Also, Danko Chiefdom in Danko-Wasagu Local Cover Area of Kebbi State suffered a food poisoning fate when it lost four persons to a guinea corn meal in August 2019.
Another devastating occurrence was when 14 people lost their lives in Moda Village in Anka Local Government Area of Zamfara State in September 2019 after a housewife mistook an ingredient for heyna design popularly known as “gishiri lalle” as food seasoning.
In August 2020, the state also lost seven persons after eating fate-fate local food.
In October 2020, Edo also suffered a food poisoning fate when it lost seven persons Ogida Quarters in Benin City, the state capital.
Kano has also suffered a food poisoning tragedy when three persons died after consuming a flavoured drink in March.
The circle of the menace has continued this year as scores of lives have been lost in more states, including those that had fallen victims in the past.
On June 22, Kwara fell victim again when it lost 10 persons in Fulani Camp Biogberu via Gwanara Burutein due to local herb.
Ten persons also died in Oloru Village in Banni community of Kiama Local Government Area of Kwara State on June 22 after drinking a local herb.
In July, the state also lost four persons at Olori Village in Banni community in Kajama Local Government Area. Three persons also died in the Ilorin East Local Government Area of the state after the food poisoning tragedy hit Zamfara again in July this year when 10 children belonging to the same family died in Jangeme Village in Gusau Local Government after eating tuwon dawa (swallow) meal.
Our correspondent gathered that 20 deaths also occurred in three local government areas in Kwara – Baruten, Kaiama in Kwara North and Ilorin East- with adults and children as the victims.
At Biogberu in the Gwanara community in Baruten Local Government, 11 members of the same family were whipped out after consuming a local concoction while seeking spiritual solution and treatment of a leg wound.
Our correspondent gathered that all the 12 members of the family were supposed to eat the concoction. It was the only one that declined that survived.
The Police Public Relations Officer (PPRO), Kwara State command, Ayayi Okasanmi (SP), said in a statement: “The mother was told to ensure that all her family members take out of the mixture to prevent the spread of the disease to other members of the family. But they all started to die afterwards, including the mother with an infected leg.”
Okasanmi disclosed that two of the suspect that supplied the local mixture had been arrested and investigations were ongoing on the matter.
On another incident that was confirmed by the Kwara State Command of the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps (NSCDC), the spokesperson, Babawale Afolabi, said that four members of the same family died in Banni community, Kaiama, after taking a meal.
“They started vomiting shortly after taking the meal and were rushed to the general hospital, Igbeti, Oyo State, where they were tested and confirmed to have taken food poison.”
Also, two others who also ate from the meal later died in the hospital, thereby increasing the death toll to six.
The Kwara State Disease Surveillance Notification Officer (DSNO), Alhaji Muhammad Abdullahi, who confirmed the incident, said that the victims ate spaghetti.
Daily Trust Saturday gathered that the state ministry of health visited the community and took samples of the remaining noodles left in a carton from which the initial ones were taken to the laboratory for test. The result, according to the DSNO, was not yet ready when this report was filed.
Another suspected case of food poisoning occurred in Ilorin East, in which three members of the same family lost their lives.
In the incident, five siblings were involved after consuming a local yam flour meal (amala). But only two survived after they had been rushed to the children’s hospital in Centre Igboro.
“The Commissioner of Police, Mohammed Lawal Bagega, has ordered a discreet investigation into the Baruten incident, while the two suspects arrested are already helping the police in their investigation. Bagega advised that if anybody broke down after a meal, he or she should seek medical attention as promptly as possible in recognized medical facilities “to avoid ugly incident of this nature.”
A resident of Kaiama, Abdullahi Yinusa, said urged farmers and sellers of food stuff to preserve the items with approved chemicals.
“Our people used to dry their yam flour outside and they preserve it with chemicals. But they have limited knowledge of how to properly get the raw products ready for consumption. I think that is a major area that is worth looking into,” he added.
Another resident, Saliu Zakari, said: “This is worrisome. I think there is a need for the authorities to really look into it. We lost 11 people in Baruten to concoction the other day and now four members of the same family have died again.”
Daily Trust Saturday reports that while there are insinuations of intentional poisoning of food items by unsuspected villains, parents of victims who conceal information about occurrences from authorities for fear of imagin stigmatization by the members of the public are part of the food poisoning problem.
The Kwara State Diseases Surveillance Notification Officer (DSNO), Alhaji Muhammad Abdullahi, said: “We should create awareness in the local governments. We have our rapid response teams that are our first educators that will meet the Heads of Departments (HODs) of health who will then collaborate with the state health educators to take the campaign to the people. Until the result of the Kaiama incident comes out from the lab, we can’t really say whether it’s food poisoning or poisoned food through act of wickedness. When we demanded to have the samples of the remaining yam flour (elubo) in the Ilorin East incident, we were refused. They told us that it had been exhausted.”
“Our advice to people across the state is the need to be aware. We need to continuously educate them on personal hygiene and be very vigilant when they’re cooking,” Abdullahi added.
Senior Registrar, Department of Family Medicine, University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital (UITH), Dr Omowumi AbdulRasaq Kayode said: “A lot of things are related to food poisoning. It could be from microorganisms that have contaminated what the victims consumed. It could also be directly from the toxin from chemicals used to preserve the foodstuff. But the major thing is that we should be careful of the food we are consuming, especially foods that have been preserved with chemicals.”
“Also, stored foods are likely to harbour dangerous microorganisms which entails that we should ensure our that foods are properly cooked to eliminate them. More so, personal hygiene is very important but a lot of people don’t care about that. Washing of hands is not only for COVID-19. The practice has been there for a long time. Before we eat anything, we should ensure that we cover it properly. Our garbage bins and latrines should be situated away from the house,” he added.
“When you discover that what you consume is causing a problem, the best thing is to go to the nearest hospital as soon as possible for medical intervention because early detection of poisoning can increase the chances of a victim’s survival.”
Also, a Public Health Physician, Dr Balikis Alatishe said: Food poisoning is mostly caused by bacteria and some other toxins like virus where the patient could be vomiting, stooling and experiencing abdominal pains. From the moment you consume a substance that is containing bacteria, within 20 minutes or an hour, you can start feeling the symptoms. It is when there is a complaint and we do a test that we can ascertain that it is food poisoning. However, we can avoid this from happening.”
“You can’t overestimate the power of hand washing. Even during COVID-19, that was the number one advice given. Once your hands are clean, it saves one from so many things. Before and after using the toilet, before and after eating, we should wash our hands always and keep short nails so that we will not have dirt harboured in our fingers. It is the same hands that you use to touch so many things that you will feed yourself with.
“Secondly, we should ensure proper washing of our food. There are some foods that need to be washed with warm water. The way we store our food also needs to be looked into. Some need to be stored in containers with cover, others in the fridge but wherever we want to store our food, we should make sure it is away from the reach of pests like rats because they can contaminate the foods with some form of bacteria or virus.
“Also, we should not keep cooked and uncooked food close to each other. The uncooked food hasn’t been exposed yet to any form of treatment and can contaminate the cooked one. We should be very patient while cooking and allow the food to be properly cooked before eating to kill whatever bacteria that is there.
“We should eat our cooked food at once instead of leaving it open without attending to it. All these will save us from exposing ourselves to all these kinds of infections. But it all boils down to our personal and environmental hygiene. A dirty environment breed flies that may contaminate our food. But I reemphasize hand washing. It is very important to keep our hands clean always.”
Daily Trust Saturday also reports that in two years – September 2019 to July 2021- food poisoning has claimed about 31 lives in some communities in three local government areas of Zamfara State.
In August, 2020, seven family members died after taking a local food known as “fate fate” as launch in Auki Village in Bungudu Local Government Area of the state.
A brother of one of the deceased, identified as Yahaya Abdullahi told Daily Trust Saturday that a -12-year old girl in the family, Maimuna, cooked the food on that fateful day.
“She brought a corn flour and told her mother that she wanted to prepare “fate fate” and the mother gave a nod for the cooking. She then asked the mother to give her a cooking ingredient, Ajino moto. But she (the mother) was reluctant to oblige her.
The girl then went to her mother’s room to search for the Ajino moto. Unfortunately, she mistook a substance used for heyna decoration known as “Gishrin Lalle” for Ajino moto. You know there are striking similarities between the two substances. She used “Gishirin Lalle” and cooked the food,” Yahaya said.
“When she finished, she served herself and her younger brother, three younger sisters, her mother and stepmother. One hour after they had taken the food, they began to shiver in illness with a white foam emitting from their mouths.
“The girl and her four brothers and sisters died shortly after wards. The deceased were identified as Maryam, Rabi, Fatima and Muhammad.
“Her mother and stepmother died after they were admitted in a medical facility in Bungudu Town.”
Before then, 14 family members had died in Moda village of Anka local government area of the state.
The calamitous food poisoning occurred after a house wife mistook an ingredient for women heyna design popularly known as “Gishirin lalle” as Ajino moto. She added the Gishirin lalle in to a stew she was preparing for dinner, thinking that it was Ajino moto.
All those that took the dinner that day died. Eight of the victims died in a hospital in the neighbouring Sokoto State, while the remaining six died at home.
Eight of those who died were from the same family, while the remaining victims took the food as a gesture. In a typical rural setting, especially in Hausa land, whenever food is prepared, it is usually brought outside a house for neighbours and other guests to feast on.
Three weeks ago, another tragedy struck in Jangeme Village in Gusau Local Government Area when 10 family members died after taking a poisonous meal.
The children lost their lives after their sister who was on a visit to the family house from her matrimonial home decided to prepare Tuwo for them, using sorghum flour.
When she came, she fetched grains from local silos and then took them to a machine for grinding. After that, a rabbit being reared in the house died after eating the sorghum flour before she even started preparing the Tuwo for the children.
The father of the children identified as Abdullahi Bello said that the family became helpless as the children were dying one after the other. “Apart from me, the father of the children and their mother, no one survived. They all died,” he said.
“For a family to lose such a number of children in one fell swoop is very traumatizing. I could not sleep for days. My wife was admitted after she was hit by a shock. The incident would continue to haunt me forever,” he said.
Dr Ojotule Austin, a Kogi State epidemiologist, who spoke on how some strategies could be deployed in tackling food poisoning menace, said: “Food poisoning can be checkmated by sensitization and health education of the populace. They (the populace) need to know the possible causes and what to do to prevent occurrence. They need to understand that it is caused by food contaminated by bacteria, viruses, parasites or toxins and often times not deliberate. They also need to know the danger it poses to their health as individuals and the community.”
In order not to fall victim, Dr Austin recommended proper hand hygiene before, during and after preparing food, washing cooking utensils and kitchen knives properly, cooking food thoroughly to kill harmful bacteria, separating raw meat, poultry, food from prepared or cooked food.
The epidemiologist added that leftover food must be properly preserved if it must be eaten.
According to him, the fridge temperature must be kept low at 5c to prevent growth of harmful germs, while overfilling of fridge must be avoided to allow air to circulate properly.
“It is important to know that when they fall victim, they should seek medical care early to prevent complication and loss of life,” he noted.
All effofrts to get NAFDAC’s response through the media consultant, Mr Tayo Akintola, proved abortive as at press time.
Clement Adeyi, Haruna Ibrahim (Abuja), Mumini AbdulKareem (Ilorin) & Shehu Umar (Gusau)