Fufu, a cassava meal served with soup is native to Nigerians, particularly, the Igbo-speaking people of the Southeast.
In many homes, families enjoy the meal. It contains starch content that helps the body to build energy. But the food is currently endangered by sharp practices of some unscrupulous Nigerians who, apply harmful chemicals to preserve it, despite knowing the danger this constitutes to human health.
Against the backdrop of the deadly chemical preservatives, eating fufu can put one at great risk.
This development, mostly prevalent in the cities sends a dangerous signal that you should say your last prayer before eating a bowl of fufu. Jacob Ochenje takes a holistic look at the development and raises a valid question: Is the consumption of fufu a death trap?
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO Africa), unsafe food is a major health threat in the African Region.
In Nigeria, the unimaginable happened. Resort to untenable practices including deliberate harmful acts is common. Experts have argued that people are pushed to such acts in their bid to survive the prevailing economic hardships.
Now, the use of chemicals to preserve vegetables, foods and fruits is fast becoming a norm, despite warnings about the health risks of the practice.
The use of chemicals has put almost all the foods consumed in the country in harm’s way.
The use of harmful chemicals has reached a height that when we eat our foods, we say our last prayer. Because they are unsafe.
Consumption of unsafe foods is a road to quick death unarguably.
Chemical Preservation of Fruits is no exception. Those in the food industry would use chemicals to preserve everything.
Preserving Fufu with Chemicals:
Unknown to many consumers Fufu is also preserved with the use of chemicals.
Fufu is a traditional West African food made from boiled cassava, plantains, and cocoyam.
In countries like Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Liberia, it is made by mixing and pounding equal portions of cassava with green plantain or cocoyam.
Alternatively, cassava and plantain or cocoyam flour can be mixed with water and cooked on a stove. The thickness of the fufu can be adjusted according to personal preference, and it is typically eaten with soups.
In Nigeria, Fufu which is also called “Akpu by the Igbos of the South East of Nigeria, is made solely from fermented cassava, which gives it a unique thickness compared to other West African countries. It is commonly eaten with soups that include vegetables, beef, and fish. In recent years, other flours like semolina, maize flour, or mashed plantains have been used as substitutes for cassava flour, especially by those in the diaspora or urban areas. However, families in rural areas still stick to the traditional recipe using cassava. Fufu is traditionally eaten with the fingers, with a small ball of it dipped into a soup or sauce.
Fufu as Popular Swallow:
Fufu is one of the most popular swallows throughout Nigeria and it has gained interest internationally within the last few years. Nigerian Fufu is now the most sought-after among the younger generations. Fufu is high in nutrients and very easy to make, and it is one of the Nigerian foods you must eat.
Unfortunately, there have been reports circulating in the social media space about some fufu sellers using chemicals like Hypo and detergents to speed up the fermentation process of cassava.
“Consuming unsafe foods poses a significant public health threat in the African Region. Infants, young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with underlying illnesses are particularly vulnerable.
Food and water containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances are responsible for more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhoea to cancers. Meats, seafood, cooked rice, cooked pasta, milk, cheese and eggs are common types of food that can become unsafe very fast.
The smell, taste and appearance of food and water are not good indicators for determining whether they will make you sick. Just because something looks safe to eat does not mean that it is. It takes over 2.5 billion bacteria or germs to make 250 ml of water look cloudy, but in some cases, it only takes 15-20 bacteria to make one sick. Similarly, the accumulation of invisible germs on one’s hands is a common source of transmission that is often overlooked.
Unsafe food has put major strains on health systems and has hurt national economies, development and international trade in the African Region. Much work has been done by WHO in the past to prevent these consequences from happening.
Now this brings us to how some fufu sellers are using chemicals like Hypo and detergents to speed up the fermentation process of cassava in Nigeria.
The Director General of NAFDAC, Prof. Mojisola Adeyeye, warned against such practices and advised Nigerians to refrain from adding chemicals to their food. These dangerous practices were allegedly happening in certain parts of Ondo and Ekiti states, particularly in the popular Fufu Market in Akure.
Awareness campaigns are necessary to educate people about the risks of consuming fufu prepared in this manner.
Mr Nana shared his own experience of getting a severe stomach ache after eating fufu that was later discovered to have detergent added to it. He emphasized the need for everyone to avoid taking shortcuts that can cause harm to themselves.
Speaking with African Health Report (AHR) A Public Health Specialist, Dr Jonathan Dangana, said, “Food poisoning is a significant issue that affects everyone, often due to our negligence and lack of personal hygiene. Various factors contribute to food poisoning, such as improper handling of vegetables like lettuce, resulting in the spread of harmful bacteria.
“Additionally, some individuals use substances like hypo to expedite the fermentation process in foods like cassava, leading to negative health consequences. The desire for financial gain often drives people to take these risks without considering the consequences for those who consume their products. This highlights a lack of awareness among the community regarding the dangers of these practices.
“While using these methods may achieve the desired results, the long-term effects on consumers’ health can be devastating. Clinically, there are numerous reported cases of food poisoning, with an average of two to three individuals affected per week. This number can quickly multiply and depict a grim picture of the issue when considering the scale of a year. Unfortunately, the actual number of fatalities resulting from food poisoning is difficult to ascertain since many people resort to alternative, potentially more concentrated methods to achieve ripeness or fermentation. These alternative practices introduce chemicals into the food, which can have multiple negative effects on the human body. An example of this is the spread of pathogens like the Lassa virus, where even minimal contact between contaminated rats and improperly cooked rice can lead to severe illness. Hemorrhagic symptoms and other complications can occur as a result.
“Similarly, when someone experiences food poisoning, they may have frequent bowel movements for some time. If they choose alternative remedies instead of seeking medical attention, death becomes a likely outcome. In such cases, it is important to assess the person’s level of weakness and how long it has been occurring. It is also necessary to inquire about their most recent meal and where it was purchased, as in Nigeria, there is a higher prevalence of overripe fruits found at junctions, especially on highways. One should ensure that the fruits are adequately ripe, as there are identifiable colour changes when ripe. If consuming raw food, it is important to inspect and smell for any signs of chemicals. Once a person is infected, symptoms such as general body weakness, weight loss, pale eyes, and overall fatigue become evident, prompting the need for replenishment.”