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“Unseen Dangers in Every Bite: The Critical Importance of Food Hygiene and How to Protect Yourself”

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By Olajumoke Akinyemi
6th Year Medical Student
UTG

UTG Medical Students’ Association

Have you ever just wanted to tell the shop-keeper preparing your bread and fried egg commonly known as “mburo-omlette” to stop?, but you choose not to do so because you are starving and you simply do not want to be labelled as the “clean freak” amidst people that have the ideology  that  “germs make black man fat”, so you look away and pray you won’t come down with an illness or maybe like me, you just silently wonder when last the “egg-cup” was washed.

At some point you have probably wanted to tell him/her to not use the same knife for butter to slice your bread or at least to let out the poor housefly that is stuck in the bread container.

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Aha! My most hated of all time is when the hand used to collect the mutilated D20 that the “apprentice” gave, is used to debone the chicken that will be put inside one of most loved and all-time Gambian favourites, “tapalapa”.

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The issue with all these instances, is the alarming number of germs ingested which can lead to one coming down with diseases that could have been avoided by good hygiene and proper food handling techniques.  Although we may not be able to see these “popular” microorganisms that the whole world keeps clamouring about, but they are ubiquitous.

You may now wonder, why are they dangerous if they are found everywhere, all the time. The environment and the human body have quite an interesting relationship with these microorganisms.

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There are some species of bacteria that “good” bacteria and are normally found in areas such as the mouth, stomach, large intestine, vagina, skin etc.

For instance, there are about 100 trillion of these bacteria in the large intestine and they help salvage carbohydrates not absorbed in the upper gut, as the body gives them a “home” and they repay with these services. In as much as there are good ones there are also harmful ones that do not naturally live in the human body and as invaders, they come in to destroy.

The most common ones are Salmonella, E. coli, Shigella, Campylobacter, “Clostridium perfringes” and so many more with names that are a mouthful. These bacteria are usually found in contaminated food and when ingested can cause Food poisoning, which will usually present with symptoms such as diarrhoea, fever, vomiting, abdominal pain, nausea etc.

Whenever you have these symptoms, do not self-medicate, always visit the nearest healthcare facility around you.

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Here are a few tips for food handlers:

1.         Always wash your hands or use a hand sanitizer after collecting money from a customer.

2.         Do not use the same hand that is used to collect money to touch the food being sold, except already packed foods such as biscuits etc.

3.         Use gloves stead of bare hands to dish meals e.g., deboning of chicken. The use of forks or prongs to pick foods like “Akara” if gloves are unavailable.

4.         Always cook in clean environments and the cooking area should be far away from the toilet.

5.         Always clean materials used to serve such as spoons, cups, knives etc.

6.         Always cover the food being sold to customers.

7.         Do not sell food around gutters and stagnant water.

Tips for consumers:

1.         Always constructively criticise the hygiene of the food vendor and talk to them about their sanitation, because your health lies in their hands.

2.         Ask them to cover the food, wash their hands and wash the utensils too.

3.         As much as possible, wash food items such as fruits and vegetables.

4.         Always maintain a refrigerator temperature of < 4 C for your stored foods.

5.         Wash your hand before and after eating.

Finally, food hygiene is of utmost importance as many diseases are as result of poor hygiene and food handling techniques. Handwashing cannot be overemphasized. Take charge of your health now! Starting with what you eat. You can start by asking the shopkeeper to wash that “egg-cup” today!

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