PROLIFERATION OF CATERERS IN AKWA IBOM AND THE NEED FOR PROPER FOOD HYGIENE

By Uwakmfon Dan

Recently, it seems all we ever really talk about, especially, in this part of the world -Akwa Ibom State, is politics. Everyone wants to discuss how a certain State Chief Executive is (not) performing, how a Managing Director of a certain Federal Government establishment is (not) taking over the Hilltop Mansion in 2019 and perhaps, how some political heavyweights have stylishly coined ‘zoning’ to mean ‘rotation’, to suit their political interest.

Aside from frequent political wisecracks and inter-party gimmicks, do we ever really talk about the uncomfortable situations accompanying recent positive developments in our State? It’s time to take a new approach, time to stop pussyfooting and start talking about what’s really on our minds.

A recent observation finds a quick rise in the number of young food dealers in Akwa Ibom State. Young entrepreneurs, especially, chefs, caterers and occasional food vendors are now in large numbers, with new brands expected in the coming months.

Their embracing entrepreneurship, may (or may not) be connected to the Dakkada Philosophy of the State Government, but deserves our support, encouragement and good counsel, always.

However, the development, laudable as it is, is coming not without very pressing issues that need urgent attention. A careful observation shows that eight of ten chefs and caterers in the State, lack requisite knowledge and training on proper management of comestibles meant for public consumption.

Their benightedness in food management; another observation shows, is complicated by the very filthy and unhealthy environments where their foods are prepared. Most do not have chef clothings such as aprons, headwears (nets and hats), baking gloves, etc, thus, serving as a discouraging factor to potential customers and clients.

A close friend recently complained of how she ordered for a birthday cake from one of our young bakers, but was disappointed seeing pictures of different folks posing with the cake, uncovered, a clear indication that ‘some’ of our friends- the caterers and chefs, need and should seek more knowledge on food packaging and marketing.

Sadly, it seems it’s only in Akwa Ibom State that that there is little or no regulation of Food Enterprises. It seems too, that the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), and other agencies like the Consumer Protection Council (CPC) are not living up to expectations.

The Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (FSAN) Directorate of (NAFDAC), stipulates among other guidelines, that persons engaged in Small Scale Food Enterprise, should have either basic education or adequate training and requisite experience; that they should wear protective apparel, to protect foods from contamination and must practice good Sanitation and hygiene habits.

But when last did one hear of any routine inspection or closure of a fast food outlet in the State by NAFDAC or CPC, over noncompliance to standards? Or should one be tempted to believe that all food outlets in the State have met the minimum regulation for water supply, food preparation, storage and general hygiene standards?

The glaring fact is that Fast Foods may be delicious and convenient, but they may also constitute a source of public health concern if prepared under unhygienic or insanitary conditions. The young food handlers should play an important role in ensuring that safe food is available for consumption, as this would in the long run, ensure minimal risks and hazards to human health.

Mishandling of food and disregard for personal hygiene on the part of these food handlers may result in food contamination and its attendant consequences including food poisoning and spread of diseases may cost us more.

While enrolling for training in any Catering School could be pretty expensive, there is a solution. A quick Google search on this subject will present hundreds (perhaps thousands) of free online tutorials and resources (ebooks and videos) on efficient food management and marketing (see attachments below). Such opportunities could be harped upon by the young entrepreneurs to gain more knowledge on food hygiene, grow their brands and attract more clients. There is also need for the State Ministry of Health and other health related institutions to organise regular catering tutorials for these young entrepreneurs, at least, to enlighten them on food hygiene, especially, those meant for public consumption. Of course, what is worth doing, is worth doing well.

To say the least; if these young entrepreneurs must measure up with bigger brands like Food Affairs, Pepperoni, Crunchies, Tantalizers etc, in the nearest future, then more attention should be paid to food hygiene, lest they end up as one of the local roadside food outlets or die off, sooner than expected.

 

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