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Despite Health Implications, Nigerians Continue to Consume Rotten Tomatoes

Zainab, a retired school teacher and grandmother in Sokoto State, North West Nigeria, has in the last few months been preparing her stew and other delicacies with rotten tomatoes due to the high cost of living.

When asked why the choice of rotten tomatoes, she said: “What choice do we have? These are half the price of the fresh ones and they are what I can make do with my pension cut.”

Beside her, another buyer, who is a mother of three, said she’s aware that rotten tomatoes and pepper are not the best for consumption but many consumers need to compromise despite health implications. 

Speaking on why the sellers have more rotten tomatoes for consumers instead of throwing them away, a wholesaler, who simply identified himself as Yakub, gave an insight into the logistics issues plaguing the supply chain. 

“Transportation delays and poor infrastructure make a lot of the produce spoil from the farm before reaching the market,” he explained. 

“The economic downturn has also exacerbated the issue, with fuel prices soaring and maintenance costs skyrocketing. All of these make it difficult to deliver fresh produce efficiently. I hate selling rotten tomatoes but it’s either I do or let my business die. We need the government’s support to upgrade our transport and storage facilities.”

From unpredictable weather due to climate change to fluctuating market prices, farmers face a myriad of challenges. One of them simply identified as Yusuf said each day begins with the promise of a new harvest and the weight of responsibility but “without proper infrastructure and market access, our efforts often go unrewarded.”

In 2018, the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) warned against the consumption of rotten tomatoes, as they contain microorganisms, mostly fungi. The fungi, according to experts, produce mycotoxins, which may cause cancer or kidney damage.

“Once tomatoes become rotten, they will have microorganisms, mostly fungi, and fungi in rotten tomatoes produce mycotoxins which are deadly and induce cancer, and cause immune deficiency in man and animals. Mycotoxins are deadly and can cause all sorts of poisoning in the body. Some research suggested that mycotoxins could also cause kidney damage,” said Christiana Essenwa, a deputy director with the agency.

Also, a nutritionist, James Oloyede, said rotten tomatoes contain aflatoxins which can predispose those who consume them to cancer. He further pointed out that eating foods with mucus growing on them is also not healthy.

“Those white things found in rotting tomatoes are fungi and aflatoxins. When people consume them, they are part of what causes free radicals in the body. We call them free radicals and they can eventually lead to certain types of carcinogens that cause cancer.”

According to World Health Organisation (WHO), aflatoxins are among the most poisonous mycotoxins which are produced by certain moulds. The health effects of mycotoxins range from acute poisoning to long-term effects such as immune deficiency and cancer. 

Aside from causing liver cancer, the health organisation added that exposure to aflatoxins can lead to birth defects and stunted growth in children as well as immunosuppression leading to decreased resistance to infectious agents.

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