Contaminated food continues to cause numerous devastating outbreaks in the Africa. A large proportion of ready-to-eat foods are sold by the informal sector, especially as street foods. The hygienic aspects of vending operations and the safety of these foods are problematic for food safety regulators.
The global food crisis has worsened an already precarious food situation because when food is in short supply people are more concerned about satisfying hunger than the safety of the food.
According to World Health Organisation (WHO), food poisoning also called foodborne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food or water. Foodborne pathogens can cause severe diarrhoea or debilitating infections including meningitis.
Chemical contamination can lead to acute poisoning or long-term diseases, such as cancer. Foodborne diseases may lead to long-lasting disability and death. Examples of unsafe food include; uncooked foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables contaminated with faeces, and raw shellfish containing marine biotoxins.
Food poisoning is illness caused by eating contaminated food. Infectious organisms including bacteria, viruses and parasites or their toxins are the most common causes of food poisoning.
Infectious organisms or their toxins can contaminate food at any point of processing or production. Contamination can also occur at home if food is incorrectly handled or cooked.
Food poisoning symptoms, which can start within hours of eating contaminated food, often include nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Most often, food poisoning is mild and resolves without treatment. But some people need to go to the hospital.
Food safety has been a growing concern in Nigeria today. The location of some restaurants and food processing industries contributes the transmission of food poisons.
According to an expert, Professor Alfred Ihenkuronye, more than 200,000 persons die every year in Nigeria of food poison caused by food contamination during processing, preservation and service. Food contaminants are mostly substances from our environments.
According to Nigerian health experts, inadequate water supply may affect food safety. Drinking water may also be polluted by human activities therefore, to protect human health is to ensure hygiene, sanitation and adequate drinking are in place. The joint monitoring program (JMP) for water and sanitation of the WHO/United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF), noted that only 58 per cent of Nigerians have access to portable drinking water.
“Human activities lead to generation of wastes which constitutes a breeding ground for disease vectors and other microorganism that can contaminate food resulting to food poisoning. Pathogens gain access to (contaminate) food through improper handling, during preparation and storage. Food poisoning comes from eating food that has been contaminated with microorganisms like bacteria and viruses; Poisonous metals like cadmium or lead and chemicals.
“Contaminated food does not always taste bad but mostly smells and tastes very normal. Some food cause poisoning more frequent than others so they need to be properly cooked and/or refrigerated. Examples are dairy foods, sea foods, chicken etc. Universal food safety practices are to be applied to prevent all food poisoning handling practices.”
The standard temperature recommended by the National Agency for Food and Drugs Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and the United States Food and Drug Administration is 41°F or 5°C maximum for internal refrigerator temperature. All restaurants in Group 1 and 2 (100 per cent) had at least one refrigerator, gas cooker, micro wave oven, a kerosene or charcoal stove. Some of the restaurants in group 3 (55 per cent) had at least one refrigerator, one of gas cooker, kerosene or charcoal stove. Only 68 per cent of the restaurant managers knew about the optimal refrigerator temperature while 32 per cent did not know anything about refrigeration temperature. Respondents have various ways of handling left over foods. 72 per cent said left over foods were preserved in the refrigerator and 28 per cent said they were consumed by staff and not served to customers. About how the food is warmed, the respondents said it could be with micro wave, gas cooker, kerosene and charcoal stove depending on the available one at the moment.
Also, Dr Sylvester Ikhisemojie, said, food poisoning does not mean that somebody else has placed poison in your food. It is an illness caused by eating food or drinking water that is contaminated, spoiled or toxic and therefore made unsafe for consumption.
“Food poisoning means mostly that certain micro-organisms have found their way into your food and are able to reproduce and multiply there. It is the multiplication of these organisms that frequently makes food the poison that it then becomes. It is a very common problem and it is estimated that in a place like Nigeria, there may be as many as 1.5 million cases every year.
“The good news about it is that the disease is often of a short duration lasting only a few days or at worst, a few weeks. It is often a self-limiting kind of problem and can usually be recognised for what it is by the affected person. It is similarly spread through contaminated water or food. The disease is therefore the result of eating or drinking such contaminated food or water.”
According to him, food can become contaminated at any stage during its production, processing or cooking. It can especially become contaminated by not cooking it properly.
“A good example is meat. It may also suffer from contamination with various bacteria when food that is meant to be refrigerated is not chilled at temperatures below 5o Celsius. This problem can also arise when cooked food is left in the open and is not refrigerated for a long time.
“When you eat food that has been touched by someone who is ill or has got diarrhea and vomiting already, you are definitely at risk of catching the infection because that food is contaminated. A similar thing happens when a chopping board is used to cut up contaminated chicken and the same unwashed board is used to prepare vegetable salad; cross contamination results and food poisoning follows.”
He said: “Food poisoning can start to manifest within a few hours of eating the contaminated food with features like diarrhoea, nausea, abdominal pain and vomiting. The abdominal cramps are often severe enough to warrant treatment and sometimes, the symptoms are so profound that formal hospitalisation with the use of intravenous fluids, antibiotics and pain relievers can simply not be avoided.
“In the main, however, many episodes of this problem frequently go away on its own and cause no untoward effects. Sometimes, dehydration and electrolyte derangements occur making the suggested treatment above necessary.”
Contamination of food can happen at any point during its production: growing, harvesting, processing, storing, shipping or preparing. “Cross-contamination the transfer of harmful organisms from one surface to another is often the cause. This is especially troublesome for raw, ready-to-eat foods, such as salads or other produce. Because these foods are not cooked, harmful organisms aren’t destroyed before eating and can cause food poisoning. Many bacterial, viral or parasitic agents cause food poisoning,” says an expert.
However, most food poisoning can be traced to one of the following three major causes:
Bacteria: This is by far the most prevalent cause of food poisoning. When thinking of dangerous bacteria, names like E. coli, Listeria, and Salmonellacome to mind for good reason. Salmonella is by far the biggest culprit of serious food poisoning cases in the United States.
According to the Center for Disease and Control (CDC), Trusted Source, an estimated 1,000,000 cases of food poisoning, including nearly 20,000 hospitalizations, can be traced to salmonella infection annually. Campylobacter and C. botulinum (botulism) are two lesser-known and potentially lethal bacteria that can lurk in our food.
Parasites: Food poisoning caused by parasites is not as common as food poisoning caused by bacteria, but parasites spread through food are still very dangerous. Toxoplasmais the parasite seen most often in cases of food poisoning. It’s typically found in cat litter boxes. Parasites can live in your digestive tract undetected for years. However, people with weakened immune systems and pregnant women risk serious side effects if parasites take up residence in their intestines.
Viruses: Food poisoning can also be caused by a virus. The norovirus, also known as the Norwalk virus, causes over 19 million cases Trusted Sources of food poisoning each year.
In rare cases, it can be fatal. Sapovirus, rotavirus and astrovirus bring on similar symptoms, but they’re less common. Hepatitis A virus is a serious condition that can be transmitted through food.
Signs and symptoms
Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms: nausea, vomiting, watery diarrhea, abdominal pain and cramps and fever.
Signs may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.
However, seek medical attention if you experience any of the following:
*Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down
*Bloody vomit or stools
*Diarrhea for more than three days
*Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
*An oral temperature higher than 101.5 F (38.6 C)
Neurological symptoms such as: blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms.
According to research, treatment for food poisoning typically depends on the source of the illness, if known, and the severity of your symptoms. For most people, the illness resolves without treatment within a few days, though some types of food poisoning may last longer.
Treatment of food poisoning may include:
Replacement of lost fluids: Fluids and electrolytes minerals such as sodium, potassium and calcium that maintain the balance of fluids in your body lost to persistent diarrhea need to be replaced. Some children and adults with persistent diarrhea or vomiting may need hospitalization, where they can receive salts and fluids through a vein (intravenously), to prevent or treat dehydration.
Antibiotics: Your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you have certain kinds of bacterial food poisoning and your symptoms are severe. Food poisoning caused by listeria needs to be treated with intravenous antibiotics during hospitalization. The sooner treatment begins the better. During pregnancy, prompt antibiotic treatment may help keep the infection from affecting the baby.
Adults with diarrhea that isn’t bloody and who have no fever may get relief from taking the medication loperamide (Imodium A-D) or bismuth subsalicylate (Pepto-Bismol). “Ask your doctor about these options,” says an expert.
Drink plenty of fluids . Stick with bland foods to reduce stress on your digestive system. If your child is sick, follow the same approach — offer plenty of fluids and bland food. If you’re breast-feeding or using formula, continue to feed your child as usual.
Ask your child’s doctor if giving your child an oral rehydration fluid (Pedialyte, Enfalyte, others) is appropriate. Older adults and people with weakened immune systems might also benefit from oral rehydration solutions. Medications that help ease diarrhea generally aren’t recommended for children.