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Saturday, September 26, 2015

How Fast Food Restaurants Land Nigerians In Hospitals

The rush for profit by the operators of the multimillion naira fast food industry has become the greatest undoing of Nigerians as hygiene and sanitation are relegated to the background, leaving Nigerians vulnerable to infections. AGBO-PAUL AUGUSTINE in this report reveals the ugly side of fast food services.

Ever wondered what happens behind your mouth watery face of a fast food? The millions of Nigerians that daily depend on the over N190 billion quick service restaurants (QSR) industry never for once pause to ask themselves, much more and jab an answer to this question.
The millions of visitors to these food places across the country have their trust put in the hands of a few men and women in these sprawling and money spinning empire.
Investigations by LEADERSHIP Weekend has revealed that QSRs are now one of Nigeria’s biggest infection centres, serving meals contaminated, and continue to land Nigerians in hospitals and clinics.
As Nigeria economy grows to a competitive global recognition as Africa’s largest economy with about 510 billion dollars come a harvest of middle and the upper classes of people with little time for homemade foods.
The implication of that growth is the high demand for ready-made food in eateries, spinning out monies to the chagrin of industry operators, who appear to have lost all sense of hygiene and public safety.
Outdoor eating method existed in Nigeria long ago but it was the United African Company (UAC) that brought social class to the sector when it ventured through its subsidiary, Mr Biggs with the opening of it first restaurant at Marina, Lagos in 1986.
Since then, like wild fire it spread to major cities and town, across Nigeria carrying with it the baggage of sweet saviours and the dangers associated with it.
LEADERSHIP Weekend can authoritatively reveal that Nigerians are being served with unwholesome meals in several of these restaurants visited. Among the discoveries are filthy environment, especially areas of production where hygiene is appalling, staff condition is scaring including their health status, unsure source of food items, including meat, fish and other vital supplies and customer lavatories among others.
Other areas are the state of meals served especially those served in the early hours, state of food and raw material preservations and storage facilities, drainage and sewage leakages into boreholes and the total absence of supervision from local authorities in charge due to pervasive corruption among the spectrums of mind bugling abnormalities in the food industry.
Many visitors to fast food joints often get infected by food poisoning but mostly, had no idea of where or when they contracted the infections and these have led to many hospitalised and even death. The common bacterium in food according to medical experts is staphylococcus or E.coli. Other germs and toxins that may cause food poisoning include campylobacter enteritis, cholera, salmonella and shigella.
“I told her to stop touching her boils in the face and at the same time touching the food she was to serve me but I was shocked, the young lady simply ignored my caution and continued. As a man who has good knowledge in medicine, I knew there was danger lurking in the meal so I left without buying the meal,” says Aminu Sarki, a Zaria based medical worker.
For Sarki, thanks to his knowledge in health sciences, many other Nigerians would not mind the scenario that warranted his decision not to buy the meal, though tantalizing and wetting his appetite but the consequences according to him was high.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend visited some eateries in Kano, it appeared most of the food vendors were only interested in profit making than keeping to standard. Of particular interest was the scene at a popular eatery along Niger Street in the metropolis, where cobweb was threatening the meals displayed.
With just a few inches to the display counter, spiders had a web and restaurant staff never bothered. When LEADERSHIP Weekend called the attention of the staff on duty to the ugly scene, he simply said: ‘don’t mind them, its only money the owners are after’.
On further interrogation, he revealed that since the parent company in Lagos decided to franchise the brand to individual investors, the fortunes of the brand nosedived. According to him there are too many malpractices in the restaurant.
On assurance that his name will not be mentioned in print he said: “do you know where we get chicken? All they do is just to go to a poultry farm and buy chicken without caring if the birds are healthy or not. In fact, some poultry farmers on realising that their birds are sick will just approach fast food vendors to buy at cheap prices. Ideally, there are designated poultry companies recommended by the main company in Lagos for all franchises to patronise but these people out of greed will cut corners,” the source revealed.
“Bird Flu and Ebola is still hovering around, such practises portends a great danger to the consuming public,” said Abu Ladan, a customer who responded to LEADERSHIP Weekend.
Further investigations by LEADERSHIP Weekend showed that only a few restaurant staff adheres to their food production standard. Many avoid the specification manual of the restaurant to their personal understanding on the grounds of years of experience.
“Fresh vegetables are supposed to be blanched before it is used for salad but what you find in most of the restaurants is what some of them will call ‘sharp sharp’ just washing with water instead of blanching to kill any bacteria or germs,” says Stella Idowu, a Kaduna based former restaurant worker.
According to Idowu, many customers are infected through consuming foods that have fresh vegetables in it as they are easily contaminated.
Also in Kaduna, another former eatery staff, Peter Odangla told LEADERSHIP Weekend that many customers are victims of carelessness. Narrating his experience he said: “where I worked before, rats and other creeping animals share the kitchen spaces with staff. There was a day I met rats eating from already prepared pudding, we just chased the rat away and remoulded it and displayed for customers to eat.
“It’s a normal practice when the owners never care about fumigation and baiting to reduce rodents,” he revealed.
More so, Odangla said when one of the staff decided to apply pet control in the place over 100 dead rats were picked from the ceiling of the restaurants in two days.
“How much of washing of pots, plates and cutlery is done in the morning after rats must have stepped on them and even the raw foods, the situation is terrible,” Odangla queried.
When LEADERSHIP Weekend had rare access to some of the fast food restaurants in Kaduna and Suleja, Niger State, it was appalling as hygiene standard have been relegated to the background.
In one of the restaurants, a staff was seen leaving the toilet and heading straight to the production unit without adequate hand washing. “Since Ebola stop in Nigeria no need for hand sanitizer again,” the staff said.
While the fast vendors in Abuja appeared to be doing relatively good, less attention is paid to the health conditions of their personnel.
While document obtained from one of the area council’s environmental department saddled with the supervision, regulation of restaurants and hotel standards recommended that food handler test must be done at least once a year, many of the operators seemed to care less.
The tests are supposed to be done in a public hospitals certifying the personnel fit and recommend treatment if a staff is found to be carrying any infection. Many of the staff interacted with in Abuja are ignorant of it.
While a staff of a popular eatery in Gwarimpa told LEADERSHIP Weekend that she does not know what the test is all about and didn’t undertake it during her employment, her counterpart at Aminu Kano Crescent is aware of the test but claimed in three years, only once has she been made to take the test.
A supervisor in another eatery along the Herbert Macaulay Way in Wuse who has been working for a year has never been tested while a junior staff told LEADERSHIP Weekend that she was recently tested and certified fit.
Several other restaurants staff said owners of restaurants hardly pay attention until local inspectors comes asking for the certificate of medical fitness.
LEADERSHIP Weekend learnt that all fast food staff are supposed to submit sample of sputum, urine and faeces for testing to ascertain their fitness to serve meals to the public.
But when LEADERSHIP Weekend contacted the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria (EHORECON) regulatory body for environmental health inspectors in Nigeria, the immediate past registrar of the council, Mr Augustine Ebisike said EHORECON is only responsible for the training and certification of environmental health officers who are saddle with the responsibility of sanitary inspection including food vendors in their local councils.
“For food hygiene and safety, that responsibility is neither with the council nor the ministry of agriculture or health. It is with the environmental health department of the various local governments in Nigeria.
“The local governments are the closest to the people, you don’t expect a federal agency to be monitoring restaurants and eateries,” Ebisike said.
He lamented that only few officers have been employed by the local governments to conduct inspections and mostly are underequipped to do the job. He also lamented that the lack of salaries have also compounded the job of proper inspection.
Document obtained by LEADERSHIP Weekend from the council indicated that Nigeria has only 6, 271 environmental health officers (EHO) against the 24, 000 the nation required to monitor sanitation at homes, neighbourhoods, hotels, fast food and local eateries.
It also indicated that Rivers State has the highest EHOs with 619 closely followed by Lagos State with 607 with Taraba State with the lowest EHOs of just five.
With the meagre number against the millions of homes and hundreds of thousands of food centres across the federation, many experts say Nigerians are exposed to too much health risk. “With these numbers, it is not surprising that our health facilities are always flooded with the sick,” says health worker, Christopher Odeke.
Meanwhile, Abia, Bayelsa, Delta, Kebbi, Taraba and Yobe States have not employed a single sanitary inspector since their creation.
Corroborating with Ebisike, a senior environmental health worker with Gwagwalada area council in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) told LEADERSHIP Weekend that the council has only six sanitary inspectors with three in charge of food inspection in the council.
“Because of the shortage of inspectors’ the council had to contract some consultants to assist in supervising food vendors,” the source said.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Weekend on the health implication of serving the public unwholesome product, an Abuja based medical doctor; Dr Casmir Nnaemeka said fast food restaurants have been a menace since from inception.
“Fast food is the fasted way to poison because our environmental and public health departments are not doing their jobs. They are all compromise and for the fact that they are compromised you are bound to pick up food poison,” he said.
He accused food vendors of neglecting hygiene codes and exposing Nigerians to dangers.
Also speaking on the matter, a public health consultant at the Ahmadu Bello University Teaching (ABUTH) Zaria, Dr Mohammed Sani Ibrahim, said contamination of food occurs in several ways including water source, insects perching, crop manure and people producing the food.
He said eateries staff can easily contaminate food through boils and ‘boils have staphylococcus which is one of the common causes of food poisoning’.
Ibrahim also revealed that people wearing rings in kitchen are a great risk to the food they produced. “Dirt is trapped in the ring even though hands are washed with soaps and the bacteria dissolved into the next food,” he said.
He added that foods are not only poisoned in eateries but at homes too. He said a food can be poisoned if it is kept long because bacteria can produce a lot of toxins in the food.
He advised visitors to eateries to be weary of what they consume but lamented that many consumers are carried away with aesthetic beauty of fast food joints leaving them with little option than to consume whatever is served. “Go for fresh food,” Ibrahim said
In his reaction to the matter, a former head of department, Environmental Science Education, University of Abuja, Prof. Bassey Ubom said the focus should not be only on food vendors but the stages of movement of raw material to the restaurants.
According to Bassey, the stages of movement include the farmer, transporter, marketer and the user because all of them have a role to play in food hygiene.
“People take water from piggery to wash vegetables like tomatoes, the consequences are maratonic epidemic. Some of them are now pandemic where infections are transported rapidly,” he said.
He added that the consequences are glaring today with the high case of cholera, dysentery, typhoid, malaria and diarrhoea reported in hospitals.
Bassey also frowned at the way and manner by which some fast food restaurants channel their waste lines to drainages while urging the authorities to swift into action to save the general public from infections.
Also a Kaduna based food consultant, Mr Napoleon Mamman while speaking with LEADERSHIP Weekend urged Nigerians to watch out for the following whenever they visit any eatery: “if you see any brown or black trace line on the edge of the wall to the ceiling, know there are rats in that place. Nails of person serving must be short, clean shaved jaw, no long ear rings, no loosed hair, no coughing and talking while serving you and the environment must be clean.” He said.
Efforts at getting reaction from Association of Fast Foods and Confectionaries Of Nigeria (AFFCON) was not successful as calls to the secretariat failed.

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