Home Health & Food What Nigerians need to know about food safety –Nutritionist

What Nigerians need to know about food safety –Nutritionist

by James Davies


Angela Onwuzoo

A nutritionist, Dr. Mary Mgbekem, has urged Nigerians to seek more knowledge about food safety, noting that the knowledge would help protect them from the risk of food-borne illnesses. 

Citing data from the World Health Organisation, the nutritionist stated that unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites, or chemical substances can cause more than 200 different diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers, 

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise in an interview, in commemoration of the 2022 World Food Safety Day on Tuesday, Dr. Mgbekem, who is an Associate Professor, Department of Nursing Science, University of Calabar, Cross River State, said food safety can only make sense when one understands the meaning of food. 

The nutritionist noted that food can be regarded as fuel for human life.

She noted that humans can’t live without food and that without it, “our bodies simply can not survive.”

Food safety, the diet expert, said refers to the routines in the preparation, handling, and storage of food meant to prevent foodborne illness and injury, stressing that food offers so much more beyond being an essential requirement for life.

World Food Safety Day is celebrated annually on 7 June to draw attention to and mobilise action to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks and improve human health.

The theme for this year’s commemoration is, “Safer food, better health” which highlights the role that safe and nutritional food plays in ensuring human health.

Food safety, nutrition, and food security are inextricably linked, according to the World Health Organisation.

The global health body says an estimated 600 million – almost one in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420 000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years.

Dr. Mgbekem explained that from the farm through transportation, handling, preparation, and consumption, food products could encounter any number of health hazards during their journey through the supply chain.

“Food safety is used as a scientific method/discipline describing handling, preparation, and storage of food in ways that prevent food-borne illness. 

“The occurrence of two or more cases of a similar illness resulting from the ingestion of a common food is known as a food-borne disease outbreak”, she noted.

WHO says safe food is one of the most critical guarantors of good health. 

“Unsafe foods are the cause of many diseases and contribute to other poor health conditions, such as impaired growth and development, micronutrient deficiencies, non-communicable or communicable diseases, and mental illness. 

“Globally, one in ten people are affected by foodborne diseases annually,” WHO says.

Giving insight into the importance of food safety, Dr. Mgbekem said, “Bacteria destroy nutrients in food as the food goes bad, for example, some of the food become soggy, sour, bitter or tasteless.

“Secondly, when bacteria gain entrance into the body, they destroy body organs and cause illnesses or foodborne illness. 

“Thirdly, some infections may eventually lead to death. Finally, there may be a waste of money on drugs and hospitalisation.”

The nutritionist said access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food was key to sustaining life and promoting good health.

She pointed out that some practices make food unsafe for consumption in Nigeria, noting that people should avoid them.

Some of the practices, she said, include the cross-contamination of food through the use of equipment.

“For instance, the use of equipment for different purposes. For example, a knife used for cutting meat, fish, onion, and vegetables can lead to the transfer of harmful bacteria.

“Poor kitchen hygiene, poor personal hygiene, and poor food storage/ preservation”, she added.

Listing ways of ensuring food safety, the nutritionist said home managers, caterers, and food vendors should ensure proper personal hygiene, especially hand washing under running water before food preparation.

She also urged them to go for a routine medical examination to prevent foodborne diseases.

Dr. Mgbekem also stressed the need to maintain good environmental sanitation in the food preparation areas.

Data from the WHO shows that access to safe and healthy food is a necessity for everyone. 

It stated that food safety is important because it helps to reduce the risk of diseases and deaths caused by unsafe food consumption, adding that it also help reduce the burden of financial losses due to foodborne illnesses (such as typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhoea, and dysentery)

The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention says foodborne illness (sometimes called food poisoning, foodborne disease, or foodborne infection) is common, costly—and preventable. 

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