By Obianuju Okonkwo
It’s no news that in this ongoing recession goods and commodities are more expensive. As we make conscious efforts to sustain ourselves while we await the end of the recession, we might as well learn to spend wisely! When I say “spend wisely” I’m not only saying we have to cut down on some of our expenses, rather, ensuring that whatever we purchase should be of good value.
We are what we eat, therefore, it’s important that the food we consume should be of high quality and nutritional value, and equally safe for consumption. It’s paramount that our hard earned cash go into getting the best – the value of the food (in terms of sensory quality, nutrition and safety) is equivalent to the cash paid. Poor food handling reduces food quality and value, therefore our approach to how we handle food stuffs, both as sellers and buyers at the markets and in our homes should be a cause for discussion and further enlightenment. Over the years, I’ve made some careful observations on how raw and processed food materials are being handled at some local markets.
Here are certain things you should look out for:
DON’T SLICE YOUR LEAFY VEGETABLES AT PURCHASE POINTS
Oh yes! You heard me right! Do not cut your vegetables at purchase points. Leafy vegetables and non- leafy vegetables should be washed before being cut, this is because there is little or no loss of nutrients when they are washed whole, compared to washing after they’ve been cut. Washing your vegetables after slicing/cutting allows for quick loss of nutrients (especially water-soluble vitamins and minerals) leaving you with just fibre.
So I tried to find out why people still ask for their pumpkin leaves, water leaves, etc, to be sliced at purchase points; while some confessed that they neither have the energy nor time, others said it’s simply for convenience. If you fall into this category of people, I’ll suggest you purchase pre-washed, sliced/cut vegetables packed in plastic bags or the washed-sliced-blanched ones. You may find it at specific supermarkets and food mart.
BUY GARRI WITH NO SAND CONTAMINANT
Undeniably, the presence of sand particles in gari makes it look unpleasant. Customers will only purchase your food product, firstly; if it looks appealing to the eyes.
I have made observations at some local markets that some gari sellers don’t cover their gari. They display the gari in the open where dust, dirt and other foreign materials easily find their way into it. Unfortunately, some Nigerians have already accepted that it’s normal to have sand particles in gari – biko, it isn’t normal.
Also, some gari producers still utilise traditional methods in processing gari as opposed to the mechanized method. Traditional method inevitably allows for contamination.
These days, you’d find gari packaged in plastic bags, some in small, portable sizes, others in much bigger sizes. With this change, the problem of gari contamination at the marketplace is eliminated.
DON’T PURCHASE VEGETABLE OILS DISPLAYED UNDER THE SUN
Next time you visit the market to buy your cooking oil and the seller gives you one of those displayed outside under the sun (especially oils in transparent bottles), please do not accept it. Ask for the ones shelved inside the shop. This is why, when oils are placed directly under the sun, certain reactions such as oxidation and lipolysis speeds up overtime. These reactions alter the flavour and nutritional quality of the oil, thus shelf-life is reduced. In plain English, they become of less value before their best before dates.
While these reactions occur faster in oils stored in transparent bottles, oils stored in coloured, dark bottles and packs may have little protection, because, the coloured bottles filter off ultra-violet rays from the sun, possibly slowing down these reactions.
Fluorescent lights in supermarkets has been proven to destroy vitamin A and E in oil placed on shelves directly under them
Nevertheless, oils should never be kept under the sun, but rather in dark places and at room temperature. Oils should also be placed at lower shelves away from the fluorescent lights or ceilings bearing fluorescent light in Supermarkets should be constructed high-up.
BUY WHOLESOME FOODS
Weevil-infested beans and rice, damaged tomatoes and pepper popularly called esa, non-fresh or partially rot fruits and vegetables, discoloured meat (fresh), etc., are all examples of unwholesome foods. What it means is that their nutrients have depleted and qualities reduced.
The less fresh the fruits and vegetables or the more infested the beans, the lesser the nutritional value and the more susceptible they are to spoilage. The nutrient value of most fresh foods reduces overtime with exposure to air or when placed in water.
Just because esa is very cheap doesn’t mean you should buy it. This group of tomatoes are damaged as a result of poor handling and use of unfit package and transport facilities for transporting them. Not only have they lost their nutrient value and sensory qualities, but also have increased microbial load.
So, the next time you’d want to buy that beans with so much holes, or those vegetables looking all shrunken and wrinkled, please think again.
The Writer – Obianuju Okonkwo is a Food Scientist with great interest in Food Processing, Quality Control and Public Health. She’s also passionate about educating, which she partly does through writing. When she’s not scouting for knowledge, she’s making a dress or learning a skill on YouTube. Obianuju likes to think of herself as a “lifelong learner”.
You can send her a mail on firstname.lastname@example.org follow her on Twitter@ObianujuO