Diets rich in vegetables and fruits have been confirmed by experts to lower blood pressure, reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke, prevent some types of cancer, lower risk of eye and digestive problems, as well as have a positive effect on blood sugar, which can help keep appetite in check.
As a result, health experts and dieticians have continually advised the inclusion of fruits in daily diets to live healthy, and also grow and repair human tissues. “It helps to develop a blood lipid profile, detoxify the human body, prevent vitamin deficiencies and neutralise many chronic diseases like cancers, lowers blood cholesterol levels, controls blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases,” an experts said.
However, sourcing the fruits isn’t always an easy exercise, especially in urban centres. This is because of the numerous challenges affecting the supply chain. One of such challenges is the poor hygiene of some of the vendors involved in the supply chain, and processing of the fruits for retail to consumers.
Findings show that vendors involved in retailing fruits in most urban cities are culpable of some of the observed unhealthy practices. For instance, some vendors artificially ripen fruits with the aid of calcium carbide, a process that has been described by health experts as unhealthy and dangerous to health.
The calcium carbide ripening process is said to give off traces of arsenic and phosphorus, both highly toxic to humans. Since so much acetylene is needed to mimic the ethylene action, this just intensifies the amount of toxic chemicals that are also introduced to the fruit. As a result, consumption of fruits ripened with calcium carbide can cause severe health problems and has, therefore, been declared illegal.
In parts of Lagos State, there have been incidences of some vendors caught exhuming fruits from the brackish water in a public drainage, just as some have also been sited using drainage water to wash fruits before displaying on their fruits stand. While some do not wash the fruits properly before cutting for retail, others only use a bowl or bucket of water to wash heaps of fruits without washing a second time with clean water. These practices, according to dieticians, predispose the fruits to infestation by pathogens during washing, peeling, dicing, trimming, packaging, handling, and marketing.
To prevent these occurrences or to manage the situation if one must continue buying fruits, a nutritionist, John Ogundiran, advised that it is preferable to buy fruits in bulk. But since a larger part of the population cannot completely do away with roadside vendors, he advised that people buy fruits from vendors that are reliable.
Ogundiran said: “If you want a sliced fruit, you can ask them to slice it in your presence and then ensure they don’t blow air into the nylon or packaging material to be used for the fruit. This is because the process of blowing air into the nylon will introduce microorganisms via the saliva droplets not seen and will contaminate the pack.
“Possible food poisoning from pathogens such as salmonella paratyphi, and Hepatitis A, C, and B. Some conditions also reduce nutrients in the fruit due to exposure to light and oxygen, especially Vitamin A, B2, B6, and B12. You should try to avoid peeled fruit. Buy fruit in its peel and never eat the fruit until you wash it by yourself,” he said.
He spoke on the need to be mindful of ripened fruits because most of the ripening processes end on the skin of the fruits. “The skin should be washed or peeled off where necessary. In some cases, some of the fruits vendors expose already cut fruits and knives to flies and dust. Some methods of selling these fruits to customers are quite unhealthy; there is a case of blowing air into the nylon to allow it open easily, while some when opening the nylon dip their hands inside not wanting to know if the hand is washed or had been used to scratch one part of the body that can introduce germs into the fruits.”
In his view, Ferdinard Ibe, said it is usually worse when a fruit vendor seen engaging in some of the unhygienic acts is corrected or cautioned. “The vendor sometimes rain abuses on you without taking to corrections. I prefer to buy fruit as a whole because I don’t know the type of water that was used to wash it before it was cut for sale. I also don’t know the type of environment where the fruits were cut and taken out to be sold. I have seen a situation where a fruit vendor hurriedly leaves his fruits to go and urinate. Afterwards, he washed his hands with water without soap, and he used the same hands to continue cutting his fruits. This is not hygienic.”
A consumer, Adetutu Tomgeorge, who spoke with The Guardian, said she can go a day without eating food but not so when she doesn’t take fruits. She said she takes fruits because of the positive effect they have on the skin and also based on her doctor’s recommendation.
“I take fruits because my doctors said fruits are good for the body. According to the prescription of my doctor, fruits are better bought whole than sliced and it is advisable to avoid putting fruits in the fridge because in doing so, such fruit losses some of its nutrients,” she said.
Freshly cut fruit products are gaining popularity among consumers and it is necessary to ensure the safety of these products so as to prevent them from acting as medium for transmitting infectious diseases and nutrient loss from heat, oxygen light and other environmental pollutants.
Afolami Ibukun, a nutritionist, said people seem to patronise fruit vendors in the open market more, but in doing so, they should pay attention to the handling, preparation, and packaging of the fruits.
According to him, “it is better to get fruits from registered institutions that are subject to regulations. The possible health implications with buying sliced fruits from roadside vendors should be avoided as much as possible because of the high risk of infection, food poisoning and food contamination.