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5 Foodborne Illnesses Nigerians Should Know and How to Prevent Them

by Frederick Akinola
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Foodborne illnesses are a significant public health concern worldwide, and Nigeria is no exception. These illnesses are caused by consuming contaminated food or water, leading to a range of symptoms from mild discomfort to severe, life-threatening conditions. As a Nigerian, it is crucial to be aware of common foodborne illnesses and understand how to prevent them. Here, we explore five major foodborne illnesses prevalent in Nigeria and provide practical tips for prevention.

1. Salmonellosis

Salmonellosis is caused by the bacteria Salmonella, commonly found in raw poultry, eggs, beef, and sometimes on unwashed fruits and vegetables. Ingesting these bacteria can lead to symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, abdominal cramps, and vomiting, typically occurring 6 hours to 6 days after infection.

Prevention Tips:

Cook Thoroughly: Ensure that all meat, especially poultry, is cooked to the appropriate internal temperature to kill any bacteria.

Avoid Raw Eggs: Use pasteurized eggs in recipes that call for raw or lightly cooked eggs.

Wash Fruits and Vegetables: Thoroughly wash all fruits and vegetables before consumption.

Prevent Cross-Contamination: Use separate cutting boards for raw meat and other foods, and always wash your hands and utensils after handling raw meat.

2. E. coli Infection

Escherichia coli (E. coli) are bacteria found in the intestines of humans and animals. While most strains are harmless, some can cause severe foodborne illness. Symptoms include severe stomach cramps, diarrhea (often bloody), and vomiting, which usually begin 3 to 4 days after consuming the bacteria.

Prevention Tips:

Cook Meat Properly: Ground beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F (70°C).

Avoid Unpasteurized Products: Drink pasteurized milk and juices.

Wash Hands: Always wash your hands with soap and water before handling food and after using the bathroom.

Safe Water Supply: Ensure that drinking water is from a safe source, and consider boiling or treating water if its safety is uncertain.

3. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a viral liver disease spread primarily through ingestion of contaminated food and water. Symptoms include jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), fatigue, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, nausea, and diarrhea. These symptoms can appear 15 to 50 days after exposure.

Prevention Tips:

Vaccination: Get vaccinated against Hepatitis A, especially if you live in or travel to high-risk areas.

Practice Good Hygiene: Always wash your hands with soap and water after using the bathroom and before preparing or eating food.

Safe Water and Food: Drink bottled or boiled water and eat food that is thoroughly cooked and hot.

4. Listeriosis

Listeriosis is caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes, found in soil, water, and some animals. It can contaminate a variety of foods, including raw milk, soft cheeses, raw sprouts, and ready-to-eat deli meats. Symptoms include fever, muscle aches, nausea, and diarrhea, often occurring a few days to several weeks after consumption.

Prevention Tips:

Avoid High-Risk Foods: Pregnant women, newborns, older adults, and individuals with weakened immune systems should avoid high-risk foods.

Refrigeration: Keep your refrigerator at 40°F (4°C) or lower and freezer at 0°F (-18°C) or lower.

Cleanliness: Wash hands, utensils, and surfaces with hot, soapy water after handling raw foods.

Proper Storage: Store food in a manner that prevents cross-contamination between raw and cooked foods.

5. Cholera

Cholera is an acute diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. It is often spread through contaminated water and food. Symptoms include severe diarrhea, vomiting, and dehydration, which can be life-threatening if not treated promptly.

Prevention Tips:

Safe Drinking Water: Drink and use safe water for cooking and cleaning. If unsure of water quality, boil or treat it before use.

Proper Sanitation: Use proper sanitation facilities, and dispose of human waste properly.

Hygienic Practices: Wash hands with soap and clean water regularly, especially before eating and after using the toilet.

Safe Food Preparation: Ensure food is cooked thoroughly and avoid raw or undercooked seafood and street food from unreliable sources.


Awareness and prevention are key to reducing the risk of foodborne illnesses. By understanding the sources and symptoms of these common illnesses and implementing preventive measures, Nigerians can protect their health and well-being. Ensuring proper food handling, cooking, and hygiene practices at home and being cautious about food and water sources can significantly minimize the risk of foodborne illnesses. Stay informed, stay safe, and enjoy your meals with peace of mind.

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