In Lagos, Nigeria as against other states in the country, it is not uncommon to find food vendors sprawling in every nook and cranny. Sometimes in a street, you could find as much as three food vendors — why? It is a lucrative business, people must eat.
Food business has grown over time from going to the restaurant or buka as it is referred to in local parlance to door-step delivery. With the aid of social media, food can be ordered from any part of a city and be delivered to a customer at no hitch at all.
In Lagos, because of the usual ‘hustling’ that Lagosians are known for, many leave their homes as early as 4:00 am to return a little before 12:00 am daily. This makes patronising food vendors a daily practice, and in return, a boost for the food business.
For the vendors, it becomes a part of personal branding for their business to carve a good niche for themselves. Some of them want to be known as the go-to-place for tasty and assorted meals of all kinds, others have come to be known to be the early birds of the business. They start selling food as early as 6:00 am, to serve workers rushing off to work but desire breakfast no matter how early.
In the food business, consistency in a taste, quality and time(opening and closing hours) are key to sustaining the business and getting ahead of competitors.
However, it became recently known that some food vendors have employed a deadly practice of using paracetamol to cook their meat in order to make it tender on time.
The revelation came as a big blow to many, as it is almost impossible to find a Lagosian who doesn’t eat out or patronise local bukas.
Though the revelation might have come as shock to many, it is interesting to note that the practice has been in existence for a long time and only came to light recently.
INFORMATION NIGERIA spoke with Iya Dami who runs a makeshift Buka at Fagba junction, Iju, Lagos, during the day.
Reluctant to speak about the practice in the first place but after much persuasion, she agrees that it is true that some food vendors use paracetamol to cook their meat in order to make it tender in no time.
She said: “many people dey use am cook because e dey quick makes meat soft. Instead of you to dey waste firewood or gas, paracetamol go make am quick soft.”
Although Iya Dami denies using paracetamol to cook her meat, she said she is quite aware of a number of her colleagues who engage in the practice.
Asked if she knows that the practice could be hazardous to the consumer’s health, she said “ I nor think so because if person get headache or body pains, him go take paracetamol, so I not sure say na bad thing. ”
Monsurat Aderanti, a food vendor at Iju Ishaga road said although she has heard of it being done, she has never practised it.
The light-skinned middle-aged woman who sells food alongside more than 4 other food vendors at the bus garage said she first heard of the method when she was about to go into the food business.
She said, “People have been doing it for a long time. When I was going to start my business, I was advised by those who have been in the business before to use paracetamol to soften meat in order to make it soft quickly. ”
However, she says she discarded the advice alongside some other ones given to her because it just didn’t feel right.
Not just those who sell food, ‘Beer parlour’ operators have also been fingered as major culprits of this act. Because pepper soup is an important aspect of their business, it has been found that they use paracetamol to prepare their goat and cow meat in order to save the waiting time of customers and of course burning excess gas or kerosene.
Knowing that it would be a herculean task to find a food vendor who would admit to using paracetamol to cook their meat, to avoid long hours of cooking — and in turn, keep customers waiting — which could lead to losing them — Information Nigeria’s Verity Awala proceeded to speak with Lagosians on the street to find out if they knew about the practice and if it has stopped them from patronising food vendors.
Oludara Salako, a roadside vulcanizer at Pen Cinema, Agege, said “ I have heard of it before, but it hasn’t stopped me from patronising food vendors. In fact, I just finishing eating Amala and Gbegiri with meat from my favourite vendor. ”
On if he doesn’t border it could have an adverse effect on his health, if his food vendor in fact uses paracetamol to soften her meat, he said; “I’m not bothered because I have been partonising food vendors since I was a child and nothing has happened to me. And moreover, something must kill a man. ”
Arike Ogunbiyi, a student of Lagos state polytechnic, who was on her way to her school said, “I only heard about it recently and that has made me reduce my eating out habit. Sometimes when I decide to buy food from a food vendor, I just buy egg instead.”
Sarah Omotoro, a trader who sells kitchen utensils at Moshalashi Alhaja Market, Agege also spoke with INFORMATION NIGERIA, saying, “ it is almost impossible not to eat out, especially when you have to leave home very early in the morning and don’t have time to make any food before leaving. ”
The mother of one said she buys food a lot, especially as she has to breastfeed her 8-month old baby. However, she said that the revelation has taught her not to buy food from just any food vendor but a selected few and hopes the ones she patronises are kind enough not to be culprits of the evil practice.
It became imperative to speak with health experts on the real dangers of cooking food with paracetamol. Is it as dangerous as it sounds or there is a way around it?
A pharmacist, Chimerem Emenyonu who works at Juli Pharmaceuticals Ikeja, said the practice is very dangerous. According to her, there is something called paracetamol poisoning which in the long run can cause liver damage.
Nonso Nwosu, another pharmacist who works with a popular pharmaceutical store in the Agege area of Lagos state, wondered why people would go through such means just to cut costs and make profit.
He said, “When paracetamol is used for cooking, it breaks down into other forms which become entirely different from its original properties as a pain killer and becomes highly acidic which becomes unsafe for consumption.”
He added that when paracetamol is broken down in this form, the drug is hydrolyzed into what is known as 4-aminophenol, and this is extremely hazardous to the kidney.
Naturally, taking too much anything is bad and this is more true for drugs because of its effect on the kidney and liver.
In Nigeria today, Chronic kidney disease (CKD) has become rampant that the Nigeria Medical Journal in its 2016 report said it has become a public health issue.
A report by the Nigerian Association of Nephrology (NAN) in 2018 said more than 25 million Nigerians, representing over 13 percent of the country’s estimated 180million people had kidney failures.
With the increasing case of young people having kidney problems and eventually dying of the disease, it becomes important for all and sundry to take precautions as to life style choices that could lead to the almost irreversible condition.
In a country such as this, where there is hardly proper monitoring of things, it would be almost impossible to check restaurants, beer parlours or food business owners on this practice — Especially since many food vendors cook their food in their homes and take them to streets to sell.
Some people have expressed fears that the revelation instead of deterring people would even serve as publicity of the illicit practice as they would jump on the new knowledge to perpetuate more evil in the name of saving cost and time.