It was an eye sore, disgusting, totally incomprehensible. Trays and trays of uncovered sliced water melon and sliced pineapples on display along Obinagu Road, by the notorious Liberty Hotel junction along Abakpa Nike Road, Enugu.
This displayed ready-to-eat fruits waiting for customers were totally uncovered, not even packaged in transparent cellophane bag as is usually the case. Anyone that knows Enugu, is aware that Liberty Hotel junction is a very busy, dirty area with the notorious Enugu dust settling on the fruits. Yes, red dust, because Enugu naturally has red soil.
Liberty Hotel junction is a very chaotic bus stop, jam-packed with activities with the surrounding gutters reeking of the smell of urine and faeces. You find touts, passengers, pedestrians shouting and jostling for space with the pedestrians clutching tightly to their bags and looking over their shoulders in fear.
Why on earth will anyone display ready-to-eat fruits openly without putting a cover on it? What kind of consumers will even patronise such products? But then, where are the state?s health authorities, have they gone to sleep?
Pretending to be an intending buyer, I asked one of the sellers why the fruits were not covered or packaged in the usual cellophane bag and her lame excuse was that the fruit breaks and dissolves in the transparent cellophane bag.
Probing further, I asked if she was not concerned by her customers eating contaminated fruits and she started swearing that the fruits were not contaminated, as she just cut them up.
Of course, the fruits must have already been contaminated through handling but further contamination by leaving it completely uncovered is what we are crying about.
There were at least about six such stands of water melon and pineapples, all open. The unfortunate thing is that consumers were approaching the stands and walking away with the fruits oblivious of the inherent dangers.
Stopping one the buyers, who said his name is Madu Ofoegbu, he said he was buying the cut up fruits because he could not afford the whole fruit. A slice of the water melon sells for N100 while the whole fruit is N500, depending on the size. A slice of pineapple sells for N50 with the full one selling for N250, though, also, depending on the size.
Drawing the attention of Ofoegbu to the dangers attached to consuming such exposed unwholesome fruits, he merrily explained that he had eaten it for too long that his system was accustomed to the germs.
Determined to bring the attention of the state health authorities to the unhealthy development, the reporter went to the Ministry of Health located in the Civil Service Secretariat, off Okpara Avenue.
Before approaching the secretariat, the taxi conveying the reporter passed another popular bus stop, Chris Chemist bus stop, also on Okpara Avenue, not far from the secretariat. Again, many stands of sliced water melon and pineapples were on display. While the Abakpa Nike own was completely uncovered, a wide transparent nylon was thrown casually over the fruit trays.
Gazing in disgust at the wide cellophane thrown over the fruits, in an attempt to cover it, it was obvious that though the nylon may wade off dust it will not wade off the flies because each time the seller raises the nylon to serve a customer some flies get into the fruits.
Mama Ejima, as one of the sellers was addressed by a customer, said she stopped packaging the fruits singularly in transparent cellophane bag when the price went from N40 per bag of 100 pieces to N150 per bag of 100 pieces of cellophane bags.
On getting to the State Ministry of Health, mum was the word when the reporter identified herself and reason for coming. After a long argument, a senior staff, who identified himself as Mr. Amaechi Eze, directed the reporter to the office of the Commissioner whom they said was the only competent person to speak on the issue, but was not around.
However, it seems that this ugly development has been going on in the Coal city for a while now. This must have been one of the reasons that prompted some researchers from various institutions, including the Department of Applied Microbiology, Ebonyi State University, to carry out a study of the microbial contamination of ready-to-eat vended fruits in Abakpa Nike main market and Abakaliki town, Ebonyi State.
According to the research, published in the Journal of Pharmacy and Biological Sciences [IOSR-JPBS] volume 11, issue 6 ver [Nov-Dec] pages 71-80, a total of 17 samples of vended fruits were screened for total bacterial and fungal count.
From examination five (5) bacterial species were isolated namely: Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella sp, Shigella sp and Pseudomonas sp while one (1) fungal species, Mucor sp, was isolated from the vended fruit samples.
Ready-to-eat fruits sampled included spiced water melon, pineapple, carrot, tiger nuts, cucumber, paw-paw etcetera. The isolated organisms from the vended fruits showed that contamination occurred due to poor hygiene and environmental factors like contaminated air.
As stated in the research, ?the increased consumption coupled with the associated risk of disease to which consumers may be exposed, is a matter of great concern. Most times, it is difficult for one to attest to the hygiene of the processors or the sanitary conditions during preparation. This is worsened by the fact that vended fruits are done without adequate storage conditions, thereby, exposing the fruits to flies, dust and other pathogens. These vended fruits such as watermelon, pineapple, carrots, cucumber, tiger nuts (also known as aki hausa) are sold by unlicensed vendors or local hawkers who have little or no knowledge on food hygiene.?
The research further stated: ?This therefore increases the risk of food-borne diseases caused by a wide range of pathogens such as bacteria (Salmonella sp, Staphylococcus aureus, Enterobacteriaceae), fungi, viruses and parasites. And these pathogens could invade these fruits during washing, peeling, slicing, trimming, packaging, handling and marketing . The use of dirty utensils encourages rare visits of Co*kroaches, flies and rats.?
In conclusion, the scientists called on the state health officials to give attention to Abakpa Nike market and fruit vendors in the state. ?From time to time, government health officials should give attention to the fruit vendors at least to put a check on how these vended fruits are processed which include the type and source of water used, the condition of utensils and most especially the personal hygiene of fruit vendors to reduce the rate of vended fruit contamination. Public awareness programmes can also be used as a measure to educate these fruit vendors and consumers on personal and environmental hygiene to reduce contamination.?
Over the last few years, there has been a significant increase in the consumption of vended fruits in Nigeria. This is because they are easily accessible, conveniently, and most importantly, they are cheaper than the whole fruits. Other reasons include modern lifestyle, industrialisation, economic downturn, materialism and lack of time to prepare proper meal.