Last year, a deputy Director at the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC), Mrs. Christiana Essenwa, warned Nigerians to stay away from rotten tomatoes, as consuming them can lead to cancer. She explained that rotten tomatoes contain microorganisms that are hazardous to health.
She said: “Once tomatoes become rotten, they will have micro organisms, mostly fungi. 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 people think that rotten tomatoes, which are cheap, can be consumed after washing and heating. But toxins cannot be washed or killed by heating, because mycotoxins are heat-resistant.”
Breaking down what Essenwa said, a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN) at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Chima Patience said broken and rotten tomatoes can be contaminated with bacteria, mould and yeast, which are primary sources of food borne illnesses. Hence, handling, storage, time and temperature affect the state of tomatoes and other vegetables.
She explained: “Tomatoes and other vegetables become toxic, when they are kept past their storage time. Soft, watery vegetables remain in prime condition for less than one week.
“There is no other option to eating rotten tomatoes. Tomatoes should be eaten whole and while they are safe. In fact, damaged or bruised vegetables are target for decay and infection. Imperfections on the surface of the tomatoes are prime location for entry of invisible bacteria.
“Damaged tomatoes are dangerous to the health, as they could lead to food borne illnesses, food poisoning and diarrhea, among others. Tomatoes can be preserved by being kept in dry, cool and dark places, with adequate ventilation. They can be pureed and then stored in cans and refrigerated
“They can also be blended and boiled. There is a local method that involves sprinkling oil on the boiled tomatoes to preserve them.” On what to look out for when buying tomatoes, she said good and safe tomatoes should be whole, unbroken and undented with retained freshness. They must also be ripe.
“If unripe, they must be left to ripen before consumption. This is because the lycopene in tomatoes, which protects from cancer, is bio available and better absorbed when the tomatoes are eaten ripe.”
A health safety practitioner and senior registrar in the department of Community Health, Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Dr. Odusolu Yetunde said the World Health Organisation (WHO) believes that rotten tomatoes are spoilt tomatoes that are no longer fit for consumption. The body said consuming such could lead to diseases, as they are already infected with such microorganisms as salmonella.
She said: “Consumption of rotten tomatoes can lead to food poisoning. On the other hand, however, rotten tomatoes cannot be said to have totally lost their usefulness. In the waste to wealth paradigm, rotten tomatoes can still be a source of wealth creation to farmers or even marketers (sellers).
“In waste management, there are some processes that are used to manage waste, and these can also be employed in the management of rotten tomatoes. Firstly, we talk about reduction of waste. How can we prevent rotten tomatoes or reduce the extent or measure by which tomatoes rot. There’s need to educate the farmers on care and management of their farm produce. There’s need to have proper handling, storage and distribution to prevent or reduce the extent at which tomatoes get spoilt.
“Tomatoes produced in large quantities can also be preserved by turning them to tomato puree, which can be done by indigenous companies. This also helps to provide income for the farmers, as well as reduce the rate at which tomatoes get rotten, if supply is more than demand or more than can be consumed locally.
“Reduction of rotten tomatoes can also be done by another method of preservation, which is through drying. In this method, the tomatoes are dried and properly stored, which can equally serve as means of income when there is dearth or low production, especially where the weather affects the planting and harvesting season. Although mechanised production ensures production of tomatoes all year round, this also boils down to the fact that we need to preserve and prevent them from being rotten.
“Secondly, we talk about reuse, whereby rotten tomatoes can be reused in the sense that they can be used as fertilizers, or as compost to help in agricultural farming. Seeds from rotten tomatoes can be replanted and regrown to produce better and fresher tomatoes.”She added that rotten tomatoes could be recycled as a waste to generate electricity, just like it can be used to generate water.
“Tomatoes are rich in water. If the waste that comes from human body and other liquid waste from the sewers can be recycled to produce crystal clear water, then water from rotten tomatoes can also be recycled to serve useful purposes,” she said. Odusolu suggested that rotten tomatoes though not fit for human consumption, shouldn’t just be just discarded, as can still serve varied purposes that are beneficial, and even be a source of income and in the long run contribute to development.
“Waste can indeed be turned to wealth. It is the seeds that are replanted, as they can hardly be destroyed by maggots. Rather, it is the flesh and fibre that gets destroyed by maggots,” she explained.She advised buyers to look out for tomatoes that are fresh with the flesh or skin unbroken. “They should also check that the tomatoes don’t have mottled or dark spots scattered on them.
This may be a sign that the tomatoes are infested,” she said.