Food poisoningPhoto Credit: Daily Post

Concerns grow over Nigeria’s annual toll of 200,000+ deaths from food poisoning

The Gender and Inclusion Summit 2023 (GS-23), recently held in Abuja, brought forth a disturbing revelation according to stakeholders – over 200,000 Nigerians succumb to food poisoning annually, as disclosed during the event.

Osenega Orokpo, the wife of Apostle Michael Orokpo and a social media influencer, unveiled the disconcerting fact at the summit organized by the Policy Innovation Centre (PIC) of the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.

She pointed to the prevalent issue of food poisoning in Nigeria and other African countries, attributing it to unsafe food preparation and preservation practices resulting from inadequate processing and the absence of robust monitoring systems.

Summit participants emphasized that numerous Nigerians are losing their lives due to perilous and dishonest methods, including the use of harmful substances like sniper for storing and preserving agricultural commodities such as grains (maize and beans).

They also identified other detrimental practices, such as the use of carbide to ripen fruits, the addition of paracetamol to meat by food vendors – a practice with potential consequences like liver or kidney failure.

Furthermore, they noted the use of formaldehyde to preserve fish, injecting poultry with hormones to mask diseases, and the inclusion of harmful food coloring, among other hazardous practices.

Osenega Orokpo, who spoke on the subject of “Pathway out of Poverty: Closing Systematic Gender Gaps in Agricultural Productivity, Value Chain Pathways, and Entrepreneurial Opportunities,” underscored the imperative for resilient food systems to confront the challenge of food poisoning in the country.

She proposed that Nigeria could effectively tackle the issue of food poisoning through proactive measures like advocacy. Emphasizing the importance of safety precautions, she recommended implementing these measures throughout every step of the food supply chain to prevent food poisoning along the distribution channel.

Additionally, she stressed the necessity of involving women in the food value chain, highlighting that approximately 47 percent of farmers in the food chain are women.

Establishing proper food procedures is crucial, especially since many food providers are smallholder farmers, she asserted. She emphasized the significance of implementing a training model that spans from the farm to the factory to ensure that best practices are followed.

Earlier, Mr. Udeme Ufot, the chairman of the NESG Policy and Innovation Centre, described the summit as a platform for dialogue where key stakeholders from various sectors could discuss new evidence and propose contextually relevant solutions to address disparities in inclusivity in Nigeria.

He highlighted that through collaborative efforts involving government, development partners, civil society, academia, and the private sector, the summit aims to generate collective commitment and focused action toward building a gender-inclusive society.

In a similar vein, Eva Edwards, a director at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), highlighted that food-borne diseases disproportionately impact the most vulnerable segments of society, including infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.

She revealed that many farmers and business owners resort to using agrochemicals like snipers for the storage and preservation of agricultural commodities such as grains, emphasizing the adverse health consequences associated with such practices.

To combat this threat, NAFDAC’s Director General, Prof Moji Adeyeye, recently initiated a campaign against drug hawking and the artificial ripening of fruits in Lagos. He cautioned against consuming fruits ripened with harmful chemicals like calcium carbide, as it could lead to serious health issues such as cancer, heart problems, kidney failure, and liver damage.

Represented by Dr. Leonard Omokpariola, the director of chemical evaluation and research, the DG revealed that the agency had commissioned a scientific study to determine the most effective approach to mitigating the health hazards posed by the use of carbide in ripening fruits.

However, according to Jennifer Egbo, an expert in food science and nutrition, several factors contribute to this concerning trend, including inadequate processing, preservation, and service of food.

She emphasized that there are various ways in which foods, including fruits, can become contaminated and, when consumed, lead to severe problems, even death.

In addressing this concerning trend, she advocated for proper awareness, sensitization, and training. According to her, it is crucial to educate people about the seriousness of the problem and provide training on correct practices to prevent the contamination of consumables.

Chinonso Ezenwako, a Nutritionist and Dietician based in the United States, supported Jennifer’s stance and cautioned that unless the government takes more than a passing interest in the preparation of most foods consumed by Nigerians, including imported ones, there will be no end in sight to such distressing news.

She stressed the importance of training and retraining individuals involved in food processing and preparation to reduce the occurrence of food poisoning.

Expressing concern about the trend, Mr. Anthony Ugwuoke emphasized the need for urgent and decisive steps to curb the situation. He lamented the alarming number of people succumbing to food poisoning each year and underscored the critical role of addressing the use of harmful agrochemicals on crops.

Urging awareness among farmers and business owners, he highlighted the importance of taking appropriate measures to safeguard consumers. Emphasizing collective responsibility, he called for collaborative efforts to ensure the safety of food for everyone, urging caution in the use of chemicals on crops to prevent harm to health.

“Food vendors should refrain from using harmful substances in preparing their menus; it is crucial that we take action to solve this problem,” he asserted.

Other concerned Nigerians also shared their perspectives on the alarming figure. Dr. Pogu Bitrus attributed the root cause of the problem to changes in farming techniques.

He expressed concern that the present generation of farmers has shifted from traditional farming methods to modern techniques, contributing significantly to what is now labeled as food poisoning.

Dr. Bitrus also highlighted the decline in hygiene standards, emphasizing the need for monitoring living conditions to ensure hygienic practices in food preparation and consumption. He advocated for a reevaluation of abandoned practices to save lives.

Alhaji Yerima Shettima echoed the sentiment that authorities responsible for ensuring quality standards in the foods and drinks consumed by Nigerians seem to have neglected their duties.

He stressed the importance of a responsible government prioritizing food security and holding accountable those in charge of quality assurance. Shettima suggested that a system ensuring competence should be in place, advocating for the removal of individuals failing in their responsibilities.

Dr. Uche Okenyi of Hova’s Place Hospital, Festac, explored common causes of food poisoning, noting that injecting certain bacteria, viruses, and toxins during the preparation and preservation of foods is a frequent cause of diarrhoea and vomiting, commonly referred to as poisoning.

“Common causes include contaminated food and water, though sometimes, a specific cause cannot be identified,” he remarked.

He indicated that the reported figure of 200,000 cases might be an understatement, suggesting that over a million Nigerians experience food poisoning annually. This, he explained, could be linked to both individual habits and the environmental management practices of authorities.

Carelessness regarding personal hygiene makes individuals susceptible, he stated, pointing out that poor waste disposal by individuals, corporate entities, and relevant government agencies is a contributing factor. Factors such as unhygienically prepared food or drinks, open defecation, faulty soak-away/drainage systems, and mismanagement of dumpsites also play a role.

While emphasizing that food poisoning is typically mild and self-limiting, requiring proper hydration, he mentioned that in some cases, antiemetics, anti-diarrheals, and occasionally antibiotics may be necessary.

He highlighted that the significant number of deaths resulting from food poisoning can be attributed to ignorance or inadequate awareness campaigns. According to him, the high mortality rate is a result of a lack of education and awareness about the prompt and proper actions to take in such cases at an individual level, as well as inadequately equipped health facilities unable to manage severe cases.

As preventive measures, he advocated for government involvement, along with corporate organizations and affluent individuals, in comprehensive education, awareness creation, and sensitization campaigns addressing both poor personal hygiene and inadequate environmental management.


Peter Ritdung Wakkias is a Nigerian blogger and programmer, known for being the CEO of and He holds a Higher National Diploma in Computer Science from Isa Mustapha Agwai 1 Polytechnic Lafia. Based in Lafia, Nasarawa State.

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