It was on a rainy day when Tobi Odukoya and her husband decided to get some groceries around Agungi, Lekki area of Lagos State when they saw a fruit seller storing some mangoes in the gutter.
The astonished woman started to shout at the fruit vendor selling the fruits.
Odukoya while filming the fruit seller said, “What are you doing? You are soaking mangoes inside gutter and you will bring it out and sell to people right? God will punish you.”
Few days after the video went viral; the mango seller who was caught in the act was arrested and forced into the car by officials.
The trader was ordered to pick out all the fruits he kept inside the gutter water for preservation before selling to buyers in the Agungi.
The one-minute video showed that the fruits seller was forced to pick out the fruits after a resident raised the alarm of the vendor’s unhygienic activity.
Although the unnamed food vendor was arrested, there are many others like him perhaps even close to him also engaging in unhealthy practices to make huge gains.
His colleagues beside him seemed to be familiar with the process, hence the reason they were looking at him while he carried out the act.
Such act as soaking mangoes inside gutters doesn’t seem strange to the fruit sellers as some of them who interacted with our correspondent said that they were aware that people do it but denied engaging in such.
A fruit seller in Lagos identified only as Abdul disclosed that most of the fruit sellers were usually looking for dubious means to make more money, thereby engaging in unhealthy practices to get what they wanted.
He said, “I know people use gutter water to ripen fruits such as mangoes and bananas. What they do is that they buy mangoes that are not mature. They usually don’t get ripened on time and because of this, they use gutter water to ripen them. Some even use chemicals. The water has chemicals in it, so it works faster in a day or two days. The fruits will get ripened and after washing it, it becomes fresh.”
This isn’t the only unsafe practice some of the fruit vendors engage in. It is rather becoming a menace in society.
A resident around Ekoro road axis of Abule-Egba, Lagos, Mrs Sade Kareem, said she stopped buying fruits from such roving vendors the day she saw the source of the water used in cleaning their fruits.
She said, “I was on maternity leave then and I strolled to that Abule Egba roundabout to get some fruits; cucumber precisely, I got the shock of my life when I saw some mallams (food vendors) fetching water from a broken pipe in a dirty ditch. He mixed both the dirty and the clean water to wash the fruits.
“I was so shocked that the craving for the fruits disappeared. I was worried for a while knowing that I had been eating from such a dirty place. Thankfully, a friend warned me earlier to always thoroughly wash fruits or vegetables with salt and water.”
She added that it was the last time she bought fruits or food from road sellers. Kareem added, “Since then whatever fruits I need, I buy from reliable stores, especially reputable malls. I buy in large quantities and store it in a fridge. If one is not careful, these people can make one die prematurely.”
Kareem isn’t the only one with such a horrible experience, another woman identified only as Chioma also spoke about her experience with fruit sellers especially those hawking fruits using wheelbarrows. She described her experience as awful which makes her cringe anytime she remembers.
She narrated that garden eggs were the fruits in season at the time and she wanted to eat some. She stated that she had some groundnuts to spice it and decided to stroll to get some garden eggs at the junction where some of the food vendors usually stayed.
Chioma said, “I got caught up in fear after seeing the evil perpetrated by the vendors. While he moved to stay at the junction, his wheelbarrow fell and the garden eggs fell into the gutter. He picked both the ones that fell on the floor and the ones in the gutter.
“He brought them to his colleagues and they got him water to wash them. I got there exactly the time they were offloading them from the wheelbarrow to the buckets of water. I was horrified and asked them what they were doing? They told me they were cleaning the garden eggs. They didn’t feel remorseful at all.
“That was the last time I ever bought garden eggs or any other thing from them. If I wanted to buy anything urgently, I bought it from those who usually tie theirs in nylons. And before washing, I wash the fruits well with water and salt.”
Fears over poisonous acts by food vendors
Fruit vendors aren’t the only ones who have been found to commit such terrible acts, many food vendors and caterers are also involved in the act.
In a photo that went viral some weeks ago, a tricyclist was seen conveying exposed loaves of bread arranged on top of each other without a wrap or any covering around it.
The bread was obviously being moved from the bakery to be distributed to retailers who then insert each loaf in nylon to be bought by unsuspecting Nigerians for consumption.
At a workshop, the Director-General, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Moji Adeyeye, said another major concern receiving attention from NAFDAC was the use of trucks previously used for transporting fertilisers and other agrochemicals or other hazardous materials for the transportation of grains and other food commodities including use of petroleum tankers for transporting vegetable oil, water, or other food products.
She listed some of the unhygienic practices by some vendors to include artificial ripening of fruits using unapproved agents such as calcium, use of unapproved insecticide such as sniper for the preservation of grains and use of containers contaminated with hazardous chemicals such as fertilizer bags for grains or chemical drums and jerry cans for food storage.
She said, “Display of food products in the sun, which could produce harmful by-products such as benzene in soft drinks, mock packs for display, use of cast iron as food processing machines or equipment and utilities, which contaminates foods being processed with lead and other heavy metals, storage to protect food product from infestation by rodent and pests as well as prevention of contamination and degradation due to environmental factors, adulteration of palm oil with Sudan IV (azo dye), which is a dangerous practice that puts the lives of millions of Nigerians and others at risk and food fraud, which include, packaging of illicit alcohol falsely labelled and sold as spirit drinks which have exposed the consumers to a high level of contaminants such as methanol, which could sometimes claim innocent lives.”
A caterer identified only as Mrs Amoo in a chat with our correspondent said that whenever they were boiling meat for parties, they usually add some enhancers to soften it.
She said, “It’s true that people use paracetamols to cook meat to soften it. I don’t usually use it though what I use is carbonated soft drinks. I use any one of them to soften meat. Sometimes, we use nails too and kaun (potash). We get new nails and pour them in the meat. Once the meat softens, we take out the nails and dispose them.’’
Amoo who said it was a common practice among some caterers, stated that they engaged in the practice to ensure that the hosts wouldn’t complain that the meat was tough.
She added, “People only take these things to the extreme. It’s not our intention to harm people. All the things we use like the soft drinks are what people consume naturally. It’s the same thing with the nails. Some people use them at home when cooking things like moin-moin and other things.’’
A plantain seller identified only as Mrs Michael shared similar view with Amoo. She didn’t see anything wrong in using carbide to ripen her plantains.
According to her, using artificial means makes the plantain ripen faster and it also makes it look good in appearance.
She said, “I don’t use carbide for everything. We buy in bulk from farmers. I usually buy plantains based on trees; whatever is on the tree is whatever I get. Some will be mature and almost ripened. Those ones get ripened the next day. In fact, I don’t cover them so they don’t become overripe. The other ones that aren’t ripened are the ones I use carbide for.
“Some people prefer the other ones ripened through artificial means because they come out fresh. The back is usually neat. We have to sell well and fast and make gains. I have competitors. I can’t afford to have goods today and not have the next day. Besides, people don’t eat the peels. It’s only the peels that come in contact with the carbide.”
Besides, Mrs Toun Oni, introduced a new dimension to the harmful practices when she said she stopped eating fufu (a staple food made from fermented cassava) as she claimed that some of the makers had started using bleaching condiments to ferment the cassava.
Oni said, “I no longer eat fufu. It’s my mother-in-law that told me that they caught some fufu sellers in her area adding bleach to their fufu. She said that after soaking the fufu, they add the bleaching ingredients to it to make extra profit.”
Some sellers of raw beans have also been caught pouring powerful miticide/insecticide to prevent pests from eating their beans.
A mother of three residing in Lagos Mrs Solape Adams said one of the reasons she buys beans in bulk is because of fear of what different sellers do nowadays not considering consumer health.
She said, “I saw a video of some raw beans sellers pouring insecticide on beans. It’s scary. I usually buy beans in bags. The good thing is that my children like beans. We eat beans often. I usually wash well before cooking. It seems people no longer have the fear of God and it’s sad.’’
Diseases associated with unhealthy food practices
Several health researchers have linked some of the unhealthy practices and dubious means employed by food vendors to lots of life-threatening issues such as liver and kidney diseases as well as different types of cancer.
Experts stated that calcium carbide often used by fruit vendors to ripen fruits like apples, mangoes, bananas, pawpaws, plantain and others could cause brain damage.
A study in the Annals of tropical medicine and public health journal buttressed that the use of carbide and other artificial ripening agents were hazardous to health.
It stated, “The fast ripening of fruits means they may contain various harmful properties. A commonly used agent in the ripening process is calcium carbide, a material most commonly used for welding purposes. Calcium carbide treatment of food is extremely hazardous because it contains traces of heavy metal arsenic and phosphorous. The calcium carbide produces acetylene gas when it reacts with water. Acetylene gas may affect the neurological system by inducing prolonged hypoxia. Calcium carbide causes various health hazards like headache, dizziness, mood disturbances, sleepiness, mental confusion, memory loss, cerebral edema and seizures.”
Also, the Centre for Science in the Public Interest on food dyes revealed that some of the most commonly used food dyes may be linked to numerous forms of cancer.
In addition to considerations of organ damage, cancer, birth defects, and allergic reactions, mixtures of dyes (and Yellow 5 tested alone) cause hyperactivity and other behavioural problems in some children.
In a placebo-controlled study conducted in 2007 and published in The Lancet journal 29, the work critically evaluated the effects of common food dyes found in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings. The results showed that dyes studied caused some children to be more hyperactive and distractible.
“The three most widely used dyes; Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet it is still in the food supply,” it noted.
It was revealed that some of the food colourings were often used in palm oil and some other fruit juices and drinks consumed by Nigerians.
Also, a nutritionist and Chairman, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Dr Oluwatosin Adu, said ignorance and greed were the reasons people engage in unsafe food practices.
He said, “Ignorance is part of the reasons people do such things. When you look at issues more intently, you will see the passion to make more gain; they want to make much with little. We can’t say engaging in unhealthy food practices is solely caused by ignorance because as much as possible, people are making noise against them. But despite the noise, some people would not still desist from the acts.’’
Adu stated that it was important that people knew the health implications of their acts.
He stated, “There are natural meat tenderisers. They contain enzymes that soften the meat and they are not harmful. For example, pawpaw leaves. They are natural softeners. Our fathers usually used it to soften meat. It has no health hazards.’’
The nutritionist added that meat toughness could also be caused by how the cows were slaughtered at the abattoir
He stated, “The state of the cow before it is killed affects the general outcome of the meat. When an animal is stressed, and you kill it, the meat will be tough. If the animal is under a relaxed atmosphere, the meat will be softer.
“Some of these little things have a lot to do with the meat; it has nothing to do with the gender. Most times, it is the stress they put them through before killing them that causes whatever happens. Instead of using those unsafe things to soften food, they can wrap the meat in pawpaw leaves before cooking it.’’
Adu further described the health implications of the practices on the body as harmful to health leading to liver and kidney issues.
He said, “Kidney and liver problems and several types of cancers are a result of the excessive use of monosodium glutamate. People don’t measure the quantity but are only interested in making the food delicious. People need to be aware of it. Too much salt is also harmful and that is usually the cause of hypertension, liver disorder and even cancer.
“The major organ that suffers these things is the liver. It’s the metabolism for regulating everything that gets into the body.
“When the liver is over-laboured, it breaks down. The liver is usually the first point of call. And because the effect is usually not immediate, the body continues to store the toxins in the body, and over time, it begins to break them.
“Once the liver is affected, soon the kidney will break down because the two of them work hand-in-hand. This is one of the major reasons why liver and kidney transplant is on the increase. You will realise that one person needs a liver today and another needs a kidney and other things. This is a major cause although we haven’t come out to state this categorically it is a major link.”
The nutritionist further added that unhealthy practices could lead to gastrointestinal diseases. He stated, “In a viral video, a fruit hawker was seen using gutter water to wash the fruits; it is a sheer act of uncleanness. I am sure that even the seller will eat from it. Such practices usually cause microbial load. And by the time a person stores a whole lot of microbes, it leads to gastrointestinal issues.’’
In his submission, Dr. Bamidele Omotola said that the implication of such unhealthy practices varied as each of the unhealthy practices had its health implication.
He said, “The implication of these unhealthy food activities by these vendors are numerous and each of them has its own implication on the health of the consumers. Such unhealthy practice is the panacea for foodborne diseases and there are many of them.”
The nutritionist added that an instance of the effect of such practices was typhoid caused by faecal contamination of food.
Omotola added, “We have heard of typhoid which is caused by faecal contraction. That means they have had to consume faeces either theirs or someone else’s.
“If someone uses dirty water to cook, anyone who eats the food is bound to come down with cholera. For instance, anyone who eats the fruits stored or washed in the gutter would, first of all, come down with a stomach ache, then have cholera.”
Omotola also said that artificial ripening of fruits and food colouration had lots of effects on the body especially relating to cancer.
He stated, “Artificial process of fruit ripening also has its own danger because of the chemicals used such as carbide. Sudan red used in colouring palm oil is one of the causes of different cancers.’’ – Punch.