Food safety — no laughing matter

Can you imagine the headlines if I gave someone food poisoning? They’d hang me off Tower Bridge by my ballbag!
Gordon Ramsay, British chef, restaurateur, writer, television personality and food critic

Food, one assumes, provides nourishment; but Americans eat it fully aware that small amounts of poison have been added to improve its appearance and delay its putrefaction.”    –John Cage

Here in Malaysia, we are blessed with an array of delicious foods!

Thanks to our diverse society, we are spoilt for food choices. The local hawker stalls offer an endless selection that ranges from traditional Malay cuisine, to home cooked style Iban cuisine.

As soon as the clock strikes 5 pm, people from different ethnicities and backgrounds all flock to the hawker stalls, ready to chow down after a long day of work or school.

We also have the night market, or the pasar malam, which is home to all sorts of kuih and barbequed meat, where you can buy your favourite foods and enjoy them at home with friends and family.

After a long day at work, I would love nothing more but to tuck into a wonderful, scrumptious plate of home cooked style Manok Pansuh, with a side of traditional Iban brown rice, or a savoury bowl of Kolo Mee.

Gosh, just the thought of it has me salivating! Ah, the joys of modern convenience, truly a saviour for us tired (and at times, lazy) folk.

That said, I am particularly aware of the importance of food cleanliness. I do not frequent dirty or sketchy eateries, as I do not trust the quality of the food produced by such eateries. I only go to trustworthy hawker stores or eateries.

My daughter, who studies far from home, loved to frequent unusually cheap and delicious eateries. She was not one to be particularly picky about the stall’s cleanliness, just as long as the food seemed “clean” and delicious.

One evening, after work, I gave her a call. No answer. Maybe she was busy, I thought. I called again after an hour. Still no answer. Perhaps she had night class. I gave her one more call later that night, and still no answer.

It was then that I felt worried. This had never happened before. I had to calm myself down before deciding on the next appropriate action.

Suddenly, I remembered that I had one of her friend’s phone numbers. I hastily called her friend’s number, and to my relief, they picked up.

“What happened?” I asked.

“She has been admitted to the hospital, aunty,” they said. “She was admitted somewhere around the afternoon.”

“Why? What happened to her?”

“I am not too sure, aunty. I will get back to you on that,” they said, before abruptly ending the call.

I was left sitting at the edge of the bed, feeling helpless. Surely there was something I could have done?  I was angry, and I was worried. I was not there to make sure she was okay.

All sorts of thoughts flashed through my mind. What could have happened? Was she going to okay? I stayed up the whole night, worrying and hoping for the best.

The next morning, around 5 am, my phone rang. It was my daughter.

I quickly grabbed the phone and answered it.

“Are you okay?” I asked. “Yes, mum. I was in for shellfish poisoning. I am sorry for making you worry.”

Shellfish poisoning is one of the most dangerous type of food poisoning. I have known some friends who have suffered seizures due to shellfish poisoning.

In fact, I myself had suffered it as well, some years ago. I was lucky as my body dealt with the poisoning quite well, and I recovered quickly. Some types of shellfish poisoning can even cause death if untreated! Luckily her friend helped at the drop of a hat.

It took two weeks for her to finally fully recover. After that, she had learned her lesson. She traumatised, to say the least.

If she was to eat out, she made sure of the eateries’ cleanliness before eating there. She also made it her business to prepare her own more often when she had the time, and to avoid buying cheap but untrustworthy food.

Food poisoning is not the only dangerous thing about these sketchy eateries. The usage of fake food products is equally dangerous.

Some eateries were busted for using food products such as fake flour, eggs and meat. When tested, it was found that these products contained substances such as borax and arsenic.

Some eateries even stooped so low as to use animal carcasses in their food.

The fact that the owner does not care for his customers in the slightest is just appalling. They chose to put their customers’ health at risk for a quick buck!

There is nothing wrong with buying outside. Let us face it, we all love the occasional tapau. It is hassle free and ready to eat.

However, it is important to pay attention to the food we eat. Failing to do is playing with fire. It is important to pay attention to how the food looks, smells and tastes.

If it is mouldy, smells or tastes rotten or stale, throw it out. Sure, it can be a waste of money, but if we were to compare throwing out a RM5 inedible tapau to paying a hefty hospital bill, let us choose the former.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the New Sarawak Tribune.