It is something to be wary about because we take it so casually. Food safety, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), snuffs out about 420,000 people every year. This is a huge chunk from the over 600 million who fall sick every year from eating the wrong food.
In Nigeria, about 200,000 die every year, according to the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC). It is chilling news, if we are to take the figures seriously. It means nearly half of the world’s casualties happen here on our soil. It shows that there is fundamental problem with how we eat, how we procure food, cook them, and preserve them.
Poor food also comes from our hygiene and environmental integrity. At the bottom of it is ignorance. We do not eat what will kill us deliberately, but because we do not know. The first challenge is, therefore, enlightenment.
Many Nigerians need to know that whatever they ingest has consequences for health and death. Such foods that can injure us or impair our health permanently and with morbid consequences contain such dangerous substances as bacteria, viruses and chemical substances. These we can find in Nigeria through our food supply chains and they include infectious and toxic hazards, microbial pathogens, chemical residues, biotoxins and other noxious substances, according to the WHO.
The danger has no respect for age or demographic, and it is worse for low-income communities and children under the age of five.
“We all have a role to play; whether we grow, process, transport, store, sell, buy, prepare or serve food, food safety is in all our hands. And if we work together, we can all help achieve safer food for better health,” said Alex Chimbaru, WHO deputy country representative.
We have seen, in this country, how we have shown vulnerability to a number of plagues like Lassa fever, typhoid fever, malaria, especially the resistant type. They all unveil not only ignorance but institutional and cultural handicaps that date back from our exposure to modernity.
Poverty makes people consume meals without discrimination. So it behoves us to tap into the enlightenment programmes to make us understand that it is not food if it is not clean. Our food supply chains are tedious and hardly monitored. Foodstuffs travel miles, some of them arrive destinations already contaminated. There are no set standards on what to eat or discard.
“A message at the core of this campaign is: If it is not safe, it is not food. This needs to be taken to heart here in Nigeria because it will save lives,” said Mathais Shmale, United Nations resident and humanitarian coordinator.
The WHO inaugurated World Food Safety Day not just to ensure that people do not starve to death but also that people do not feed to death.
“Poor food safety practices have detrimental effects on health, on our families, on the capacity of the workforce, on tourism, on our healthcare systems, and our economy,” Shmale said.