As the production and sale of locally made drinks such as zobo, kunu, fura de nono and tiger nut packaged in used plastic bottles become a lucrative business, experts are warning that some of these polyethylene terephthalate bottles could have been sourced from hospitals, dumpsites, drainages, and refuse bins and may put the health of consumers at risk. ANGELA ONWUZOO reports
Mr. Samuel Abbey, 46, didn’t find it palatable on April 15, 2022, after the tiger nut drink he took landed him in the hospital. He had to battle persistent diarrhoea for two days.
Abbey, an indigene of Rivers State is still thanking God for sparing his life after it was confirmed by the doctor that the tiger nut drink he had consumed on his way from work that fateful day was contaminated.
Though the painter has been taking tiger nut drinks for a while because of the health benefits it has and also because it has less sugar content unlike carbonated soft drinks, the father of three said he decided to bid goodbye to tiger nut drink after his bitter experience in April.
He told our correspondent that he purged for two days, lost consciousness, and was rushed to the hospital where he was diagnosed with food poisoning.
Recounting his ordeal, Abbey told PUNCH HealthWise that it took him over a week to regain his health and resume work, a situation he said affected his family’s welfare as he was the breadwinner.
“My wife had to rush me to the hospital where I was admitted and treated for three days. The doctor told my wife that the result of the test carried out on me showed food poisoning.
“And the only thing that I ate before I started having bowel problems was the tiger nut drink. For me, buying tiger nut drink, zobo drink or any other locally made drink packaged in used and discarded bottles of soft drinks is nothing but a death trap,” he said.
Continuing, he narrated, “I bought the tiger nut drink at Oshodi under the bridge from one of the hawkers. You have a lot of women hawking the drink and other locally made drinks there.
“Actually, why I like buying and taking the tiger nut drink is because it has some health benefits and less sugar than the carbonated soft drinks.
“So on that fateful Friday, less than an hour after taking the drink, I started having stomach pain. At some point, I started purging and sweating profusely.
“As the stooling progressed, I became restless because the stomach pain also increased at the same time. The luck I had that day was that Oshodi is not far from where I live.”
Abbey noted that all efforts to restore his health at home by his wife proved abortive as the orthodox medications she bought and the local concoctions she prepared for him to drink did not work.
“When the stooling became uncontrollable, my wife went to the chemist and bought me some medications but the stooling did not stop.
“So, she quickly went and got me some scented leaves. After squeezing out the juice she asked me to drink it, but the purging persisted.
Hospitalised for three days after taking tiger nut drink
“The next day in the evening when my health worsened, my wife rushed me to a private hospital in my area at Ejigbo where I was admitted and treated for three days before I became well.
“The doctor told my wife that the result of the test that was carried on me showed food poisoning,” he said.
According to him, the doctor warned him never to consume locally made drinks from unknown sources and street hawkers anymore.
He went on, “When the doctor asked me what I ate after I regained consciousness, I told him I suspected the tiger nut drink I took at Oshodi because it was the last thing that I ate before having stomach issues.
“The doctor smiled and warned me never to buy tiger nut drink nor zobo drink again from street hawkers because I don’t know the source of the water that was used in their preparation let alone the used and dirty pet bottles that were used to package them.”
The sale of locally made drinks like zobo, kunu, fura de nono, and tiger nut packaged in used plastic bottles also known as pet bottles and discarded soft drink bottles has become a common sight in most motor parks and streets in Lagos.
In traffic especially during the dry season, motorists and passengers are presented with various cold brands to quench their thirst and ease their journey by hawkers. For some people, these drink vendors in traffic and on street corners are like lifesavers.
Materials for preparing zobo, PUNCH HealthWise gathered, include zobo leaves, flavour (optional), pineapple (optional), ginger or pepper (optional), and water, while for tiger nuts, dates and water are used.
They are said not to be too difficult to access and not too costly to buy.
Our correspondent observed that besides their health benefits, a lot of consumers patronise them for economic reasons as they are cheaper than carbonated soft drinks.
Findings by PUNCH HealthWise revealed, however, that as affordable as the drinks are with their presumed health benefits, the consumption of these local drinks is associated with health hazards.
Bottles picked from hospitals, markets, dumpsites, drainages
Our correspondent gathered that some of the used plastic bottles used in packaging these drinks are picked from hospitals, markets, dumpsites, drainages, waterways, and even refuse bins.
Again, PUNCH HealthWise discovered that the source of water used in preparing these drinks and the environment where they are prepared are questionable.
Experts say the consumption of these drinks exposes consumers to various health risks ranging from viral to bacterial infections.
A food expert, Aina Olugbenga, told our correspondent that most of the pet bottles used in Nigeria were not meant to be reused, warning that reusing them jeopardises the health of the consumer.
Olugbenga, who is the Vice Chairman, Nigerian Institute of Food Science and Technology, Lagos State chapter, said, “I see a lot of them being used to make zobo, kunu, and tiger nut drinks by local women and hawkers. And the health implications are so much.
Safety not guaranteed –Experts
“We cannot guarantee the cleanliness of these bottles. One is that you don’t know who used it last, you don’t know what it was used for and then, you cannot guarantee the cleaning process.
“Most of these plastics are not reusable. They are supposed to at best be recycled and not to be reused. Most of the pet bottles that you are seeing in Nigeria are not meant to be reused. But we are reusing them. It is not safe, it is not hygienic.”