Several studies have shown that access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health.
According the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest Fact Sheet on Food Safety (October 2017), unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.
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 (DALYs). According to the WHO, children under five years of age carry 40 per cent of the foodborne disease burden, with 125,000 deaths every year; and diarrhoeal diseases are the most common illnesses resulting from the consumption of contaminated food, causing 550 million people to fall ill and 230,000 deaths every year.
Indeed, food safety, nutrition and food security are inextricably linked. Scientists have shown that unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease and malnutrition, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick.
Several researches indicate that foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
The WHO, however, noted that food supply chains now cross multiple national borders and good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.
To address these issues in Nigeria and corroborating the WHO, Nigerian food scientists have said the safety, quality and nutritional values of the food consumed are of fundamental importance to human health and wellbeing and are therefore key concerns.
The food scientists under the aegis of the Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST) said food poisoning from spoilage is a serious public health issue that can cause serious illness or sometimes lead to permanent disability or even death, with the call for appropriate processing, production, transportation, storage, preparation and sale of food in hygienic conditions.
The food scientists at the Coca-cola sponsored 41st Conference and Annual General Meeting of NIFST brainstormed on how food safety and nutrition could be used to drive the Nigerian food economy. They said there was need for the provision and consumption of healthier foods that are affordable, accessible and locally available.
They opined that Nigeria is green with abundant nutritional food plants and herbs, but lack regulation and standard to produce quality food for consumption.
Vice President, Scientific and Regulatory Affairs, Coca-Cola Company, Dr. Wamwari Waichungo, said food plants sourced locally have more medicinal and nutritional value other than those imported from outside the country, in which its condition of preservation is unknown.
In her presentation titled: “Leveraging Food Safety and Regulatory harmonization to Drive Nigerian Food Economy”, she stressed that Nigeria has a bad culture of processing and preserving food, which affects its quality and nutritional value, adding that policies need to be implemented to monitor the food chain process right from the production to point of sale.
“Food safety encompasses not only the prevention of gastro-intestinal illnesses caused by bacteria and viruses, but also the avoidance of harm from chemical contamination and the ingestion of unwanted physical contaminants such as glass or metal. Nutrition is about making sure you get the right nutrients, vitamins, minerals, making sure we have enough protein. You cant just have a group of scientist trying to solve a problem which is huge, they need gross collaboration to solve the problem,” she added.
President, National President, Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology (NIFST), Dr. Dahiru J. Adamu, said: “government should invest in food security as human health is governed predominantly by the nutritional value of food we consume, hence, affecting most of the activities that we do.”
He stressed that food is the sole source of energy, minerals, and vitamins for the body and is responsible for the efficient metabolism of every bodily process, adding that the country needs to enshrine quality in its product, building a road map and action plan for sustainable development of its food sector.
Speaking on the theme of the conference tagged: “Rejuvenating the Nigerian Economy Through Promotion of Food Value Chain”, the Chairman, Nigeria Beverage Panel and Retired Dean, College of Food and Human Ecology, University of Agriculture, Abeokuta, Prof. Babatunde Oguntona, said if the quality of food in Nigeria is good, the local consumer will be healthy and the producer will be able to export and earn more money, adding “Either way you are growing the economy”.
Present at the conference include: the Deputy Governor, Kano Sate, Hafiz Abubaka; representatives of the Minister of Science and Technology, Minister of Agriculture, United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as well as the Director Generals of the National Agency for Food, Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Standard Organisation of Nigeria (SON), Federal Institute for Industrial Research, Oshodi (FIIRO), Consumer Protection Council (CPC) among others.