Buka Food Poisoning: 10 Ways To Avoid Death



My friend, Diran, a few weeks ago, visited me in Lagos for a visa interview. Unlike the Diran that I know, he was not looking pale and not so active when I picked him up at Lekki Phase 1 bus stop. He told me he had been hospitalised in the past few weeks. Before he was rushed to the hospital, he was stooling and puking. He could hardly breathe. My guess was right. It was food poisoning from a meal consumed at an Ibadan restaurant.

Diran's story is not new. Although he recovered from the food poisoning, not everyone who had the same experience was so lucky. Many of us know someone who became sick after consuming poorly handled food. What ought to sustain and keep people alive has sent many to their early graves.


Nigerians are wont to eating out; as a matter of fact, every one eats out. We cannot always get meals served in the comfort of our homes – cafeterias, restaurants (bukas). Some people even have a food preference at restaurants. Some prefer foods of local appeals at bukas than the intercontinental dishes at eateries.

Beyond what is served as meals, the unhygienic state underlying the preparation of these meals should be of greater concern than hasty consumption.

Here are some essential tips to keep yourself and loved ones safe when eating out. Many of the tips apply in-house as well.

1. Keep an eye on the trash can and parking lot: First, when you get to a restaurant, take a good look at the building. Can you see the trash cans’ litter the parking lot or waste bins overflowing? Is the back door open (which would allow flies in)? Is there pooled/stagnant water around the restaurant?

Also, observe the employees, if any are outside. How clean are they? How did they dispose of wastes? These are all details that you should look out for before you buy your meals, because each of these things will attract rodents, cockroaches and other unsavoury things.

Keep in mind that how people take care of the outside of their restaurant offers some great insight into how they take care of the inside. If the outside is unkempt, one can only imagine what the kitchen will look like.

2. Examine the Cooks and Wait Staff: You should also look at how clean the cooks and waiting staff are.

  • Clean aprons and uniforms. Cook staff, in particular, should not be wiping their hands on their uniform (which harbours bacteria that can spread to food). Dirty aprons are not a good sign.

  • Hair restraints.

  • Clean and manicured hands (no cuts, bitten nails or raw cuticles).
3. Beware of Special Meals: Everyone has an eye for good meals, especially the desire to try out new (special) ones. You have to be very careful of trying out meals you've never had before. Better to ask questions of how it tastes and what your body can take in.

4. Smell Your Food: Your food should smell good. If there’s any kind of funny odour or taste, send it back or thrash it immediately. Also, if your food looks suspicious, avoid it. Food that has been sitting out too long (and therefore at greater risk for contamination) may change in appearance.

5. Check out the Restroom: Health experts say that the condition of the restroom isn’t always a good indicator of the kitchen as you might think. A restroom can be clean because it’s what the public sees and the kitchen can be a mess. However, you can still gather some clues about the place. Is the soap filled (and it better be liquid, not bar soap) so that restaurant staff can properly wash their hands? Are there paper towels? Flies all around? You can proceed to order your meal once you're satisfied with the sight of the restroom.

6. Sick or disgruntled employees: Do you see any of their employees feeling under the weather? Many employees may still go to work even if they are sick because they need the money. Such state of health is not okay for the foods they prepare. Beware. Also, unhappy employees may take their displeasure out on customers.

7. Dirty utensils, plates and cups: Food poisoning doesn't just come from food. It comes from utensils, plates and cup too.

8. Hidden kitchen: If you can't see the kitchen, you can't see what occurs in the kitchen or how filthy it is.

9. Food that is not cycled frequently: The longer food sits out (e.g., in a buffet), the greater the chance that it can become contaminated. In general, food should not be left un-refrigerated longer than 2 hours.

10. Other people took ill after eating at a restaurant: People don't tend to report food poisoning incidents to the authorities, so the number of reported food poisoning cases probably grossly underestimates the actual number of cases. However, if you have a friend who was sick and does not have a good recommendation of the restaurant, be careful of buying food there.