As more Nigerians are becoming health conscious, the consumption of fruits and vegetables, which are said to be crucial in attaining good health, has been on the increase. Consequently, aside superstores and popular markets that deal in these commodities, they are equally found in practically every nook and cranny of Lagos.
Corroborating the need for regular consumption of fruits and vegetables for good health, Daisy Iyeh, a Personal and Child Nutritionist, said despite fruits and vegetables being nature’s medicines, many Nigerians do not eat enough of them.
For optimal health impact, Iyeh advised eating cumulative five portions of fruits and vegetables daily: three portions of fruits and two portions of vegetables; or two portions of fruits and three portions of vegetables.
“One way to achieve this is to incorporate vegetables in every meal and increase fruit portions through smoothies or replacing snacks with fruits during the course of the day,” she said.
But while fruits and vegetables are good for the body, dirt is not. Ironically, however, fruits are being sold not only in dirty environments, but also on land reclaimed from waste and dumpsites in the city. This is the scenario in many fruit markets in Lagos State. From Doyin Fruit Market to Oluti, Iyana-Iba, Oke-Afa, Idi-Oro, Boundary, Ile-Epo to Ketu fruits markets to mention a few, one thing they all seem to have in common is that they operate in dirty environments or on dumpsites.
Many that go to these markets to buy fruits always come out with their shoes and feet covered in mud and dirty wastewater they had to wade through while moving round the market, especially during rainy season. The marshy land also oozes out foul smell that assaults the nose. This makes buying things in these markets an unpleasant experience.
In addition, rotten fruits are heaped at different points in the markets, which further complicates the issue. But that is the environment the fruits consumed by many Lagosians is warehoused for days or weeks before they are dispatched in smaller quantities to various points of sale across the city.
Residents might be desirous of a healthy lifestyle by consuming fruits, but in the process of achieving this, they might be consuming contaminated fruits that make them unhealthy, having been infected in the process.
In 2014, the World Bank’s “Safe Food Imperative” found that the cost of treating diarrhoea, attributable to food contamination was about US$10 per case, with Nigeria estimated to lose about US$6b annually in productivity, which underscores why the health sector prioritises safety of foods sold, marketed, and consumed in Nigeria.
A nutritionist, Dr. Abimbola Odusote, said there is a lot of negative impact in keeping any kind of food on refuse dumps. She explained that fruits are usually not cooked before being consumed, so they are more vulnerable to mould and other harmful toxins that are in the refuse.
On the health implications for those who consume fruits sold on these sites, Odusote said there are moulds and fungus that are not easily seen with the naked eyes, which can even change the taste of the food. “This can sometimes be seen as black or at times white patches on the fruit, which is often ignored by the seller and buyer, who go ahead to consume such fruits to the detriment of their health, especially their gut health,” she said.
On the negative impact on fruits and vegetables displayed and sold on refuse dumps, an environmental chemist, Dr. Oluseyi Temilola, explained that it is common to see such fruits as pineapple, water melon and pawpaw sold as slices in open spaces and along roadsides or hawked by sellers.
He said: “Fruits and vegetables, especially those that are already cut are exposed and sometimes contaminated with faeces. Even though fruits are rich sources of vitamins, those sold at such locations are already compromised in quality. Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food, such as fruits is key to sustaining life and promoting good health
“Foodborne illnesses are usually infectious or toxic in nature and are caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances entering the body through contaminated food. Foodborne pathogens can cause severe diarrhoea or debilitating infections including meningitis. Unsafe food creates a vicious cycle of disease among the vulnerable, particularly affecting infants, young children, elderly and the sick.”
On the health implications for those who consume contaminated fruits, Temilola said some of the contaminated fruits could be of pathogenic origin, with Salmonella, Campylobacter, and Enterohaemorrhagic Escherichia coli among the most common foodborne pathogens that affect millions of people yearly – sometimes with severe and fatal outcomes.
“Symptoms from such pathogenic origin include fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.” She added that Listeria infection leads to miscarriage in pregnant women or death of newborn babies. “Although disease occurrence is relatively low, listeria’s severe and sometimes fatal health consequences, particularly among infants, children and the elderly, count them among the most serious foodborne infections.
“Eating contaminated fruits have been implicated in cholera outbreaks with symptoms that include abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhoea, which may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death.”
Temilola said Hepatitis A virus can cause long-lasting liver disease and spreads typically through contaminated raw food produce, such as fruits and vegetables.
She noted that chemical pollutants at waste dumpsites have loads of contaminants that are disposed alongside the wastes, and such activities as refuse burning and incineration of wastes also release certain chemical contaminants into the environment, which can be easily deposited on the fruit items sold at such places.
“Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are compounds that accumulate in the environment and human body, which are unwanted by-products of waste incineration. These chemicals are highly toxic and can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones, as well as cause cancer.
“Other inorganic pollutants like potentially toxic metals such as cadmium, nickel and lead can also be deposited on fruits sold at such locations.”
On the way forward, she suggested that the solution should go beyond research on the negative implication to health. Rather, there should also be policy formulation and advocacy for legal frameworks to govern the sale of such food items. She added that such locations should be proscribed and not be allowed for sales of edibles, as the risk involved is huge.
To get government’s comment on what it is doing to address the issue, the Lagos State Ministry of Health was contacted, but the Public Relations Officer promised to get back, but did not do so as at press time.