Families, food vendors, and hoteliers have been advised to use natural and organic spices in food preparation rather than synthetic sweeteners, flavors, and spices in enhancing the taste of foods.
The advice was an outcome of an event held in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, on Friday to commemorate World Food Safety day, 2022.
Addressing the gathering, the Chairperson, Nutrition Association of Nigeria, Ebonyi State chapter, Nwabumma Asuzu, explained that the World Food Day celebration was jointly facilitated by the World Health Organisation and Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).
She noted that, with an estimated 600 million cases of food borne illnesses annually worldwide, unsafe food is a threat to human health and economies, disproportionally affecting vulnerable and marginalized people, especially women and children as well as populations affected by conflict, and migrants.
She added that an estimated 420, 000 people around the world die every year after eating contaminated food and children under 5 years of age carry 40% of the food borne disease burden, with 125 000 deaths every year.
Speaking on the theme for 2022 celebration: Safer food, Safer Health, Asuzu maintained that World Food Safety Day aims to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage food borne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
In an interview, Asuzu advised against artificial flavours, preservatives and additives in food preparation, stressing that the high incidence of cancer and other dangerous illnesses prevalent in society today were the effect of unwholesome and toxic foods.
She further advised against smoked food because of its high toxicity.
Asuzu advised: “Smoking is a method of preserving foods, but we have to let people understand that there are also health hazards associated with that.
“When you smoke your fish, meat or other foods, there are some measures you have to put in place to ensure they are safe for consumption.
“If you have fish already smoked, we advise that you wash the smoked back out, and while cooking, you add some natural spices like ginger, garlic, and even what we call scent leaf, which will aid in diminishing those chemical and potentially harmful substances already in the food.
“There is every need to run away from chemical flavours, spices and other synthetic taste enhancers because of their health hazards.”
Other partners who spoke to newsmen, including the Ebonyi Nutrition Focal person for USAID-Breakthrough Action Nigeria, Kingson Ofoegbu, and his counterpart, the Technical Director of USAID- integrated Health Program, Oladipo Akinmade as well as the State Nutrition Officer, Ebonyi State Ministry of Health, Cyprain Ogbonna, observed that although Ebonyi State was blessed with lots of food items, emphasis should be laid on hygiene and the right combination of these food to achieve desired nutrients.
Akinmade observed that Lassa Fever, Cholera and Diarrhea infections often witnessed in the state could be attributed to food exposure to causative organism.
Ofoegbu on his part, added that breakthrough action as a social behavioral change project has been promoting 17 priority health behaviours, including adequate and safe nutrition in the communities.
“World food safety day celebration gives us an avenue to enlighten community members, food vendors, hoteliers, market women, farmers and the general public on the need for food safety practices.
“Some of those food safety practices we promote in the communities are: keep clean; be hygienic while preparing your food, cook your food properly, at least up to 70 degrees centigrade; ensure that you reheat already cooked food
“Separate raw food from cooked food because raw food, especially meat, poultry, fish and sea foods have micro organisms that can contaminate other foods thereby leading to food borne diseases.
“Another thing we promote especially for children from 0 to 6 months is exclusive breast milk as the best food,” Ofoegbu stressed.
The event featured panel discussion, during which the panelists drawn from the Nigerian Institute of Food Technology and other expert organisations analysed harmful issues surrounding food production, storage, processing, preparation and serving, recommending naturalness and personal hygiene as safety measures in food handling.
The event was organised in collaboration with the State Ministry of Health with its partners: USAID-Breakthrough Action, USAID-IHP, Nutrition Association of Nigeria, Institute of food science and technology, among others.
World Food Safety Day is observed on June 7, annually.