Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye (lower left, not exactly as shown), chairman of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), writes that media reports on cases of food poisoning in Malaysia, especially involving students, seem to be on the rise lately.
NIOSH views the matter seriously and would like to urge everyone involved, including the relevant authorities, school administrators, owners of eateries, caterers, food handlers and parents to take appropriate steps to prevent food contamination from becoming a serious health threat.
We do not want to see a repeat of the recent food poisoning case in Batu Gajah, Perak which claimed one life and left several others needing hospital care.
Less than a month after the incident in Batu Gajah, where victims consumed pesticide-contaminated food bought at a stall there, another food poisoning episode took place at Sekolah Menengah Sains Tapah in Perak. In this incident, 43 students and a teacher fell sick after eating roti jala with chicken curry at the hostel. It was later found that the chicken used in the curry was contaminated by salmonella bacteria.
It was the second case of food poisoning reported in the school in the past three years. In October 2013, more than 270 students suffered food poisoning from a chicken dish served at the school’s dining hall.
Students must be protected from not only accidents and crime within the school compound but they should also have access to safe and hygienic food in the canteen or dining hall.
As for food outlets and restaurants, the owners must ensure that people whom they hire must be qualified and practise hygienic and safe food preparation and handling.
In the wake of the recent food poisoning incidents, there should be close monitoring on food preparation and handling as well as frequent checks on eateries and school canteens throughout the country.
In Malaysia, roadside food stalls are mushrooming and frequented by the public who seem to be unsure whether these stall owners have certificates from the Health Ministry or permits from local authorities.
Tan believes that random checks and on-the-spot compound issued by the ministry and local authorities will help improve the cleanliness of the eateries and ensure safe and hygienic food preparation and handling.
The Health Ministry has to conduct more frequent inspections at all eateries as compared to the current practice of once a year, or when there are food poisoning cases or customer complaints. Local authorities also have to step up their inspection at eateries in their jurisdiction and focus on the roadside stalls to weed out the unlicensed ones.
As for primary school pupils, teachers and parents have to teach them food safety and how to spot spoiled food by using senses like sight, smell and taste.
School administrators or parent-teacher associations have to ensure that sinks in school canteens are properly maintained and soap is provided for the students to clean their hands before and after meals. Consumers have to be conscious of food safety and avoid dirty eateries.
How would consumers know? Foodborne organisms that cause illness cannot be seen. Carrots and sticks, shock and shame, rather than just military-like intervention. Go for full restaurant inspection disclosure.
The Foreigner effect is identical to the Journey effect.