The Nigeria Agricultural Quarantine Service (NAQS) has warned travellers and smugglers to be wary of listeria-infected food items.
The Coordinating Director of NAQS, Dr Vincent Isegbe, gave the warning in an interview with News men on Tuesday in Abuja.
Listeriosis is food poisoning caused by eating foods contaminated with the listeria monocytogenes bacterium.
The disease primarily affects adults, persons with weakened immune systems, pregnant women and newborns.
A person suffering from listeriosis usually has fever and muscle aches, often preceded by diarrhoea or gastro-intestinal symptoms.
The NAQS boss issued the warning against the backdrop of the recent UN alert that Nigeria and five other countries stood the risk of experiencing an outbreak of the disease.
Isegbe said that the UN listed Nigeria because “we travel a lot; and also because of our population and human activities.
“As a nation, we should be careful of whatever we eat; if there are cases of any disease in other countries, it is our duty to avoid importation of any items from such countries.
“It is also our duty to sensitise the citizens to the need to avoid such products because the packaging and storage of infected products can still contaminate other products.
“It is better to avoid imported products and eat our local products because most of the imported products are not healthy,’’ he said.
Isegbe, however, noted that it was difficult to stop outbreak of diseases because diseases could occur due to breaches or uncontrolled habits, as people often travelled from one place to another.
“No one can domicile human beings and prevent them from travelling and as they travel, they eat and carry food items along the way. And those items can be sources of infection and contamination from one country to another.
“We urge Nigerians who travel to South Africa or other countries not to bring any food items; they should also be careful of what they eat outside of the country so that they would not get infected.
“Nigeria as a country does not allow importation of meat and some other items; the service does not give anyone permits to import meat or any meat products but illegal importation into the country is our major challenge,’’ he said.
Besides, Isegbe noted that the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development had set up a ministerial committee on illegal importation and smuggling, chaired by the Minister of State, adding that the committee had held several meetings to curb the aberration.
“We have gone to most of the big supermarkets and retail shops to verify our suspicions; we, however, found out that they do not import poultry and fish products but they only feed their stock with Nigerian products.
“Our major concern is smuggling through the land borders, which the Federal Government is seriously kicking against and most of the items coming from neighbouring countries are banned in Nigeria.
“If there are no buyers, those selling imported products will run out of the business; if nobody is buying, they will not restock.
“As a citizen of this country, we have responsibility to prevent such products from coming in and as a nation; we ought to discourage citizens from patronising such products.
“If there is less importation, there is no way animal and food items such as like beef, sausage and fruits contaminated with listeria can flood our markets,’’ he added.
Isegbe commended the Nigerian Customs Service for supporting NAQS in efforts to accomplish its mandate, saying: “It’s not easy for NAQS to cover all the perimeters of our land but we have complimentary services from the Customs Service.
“We safeguard the Nigerian population through the prevention of importation of illegal products into the country