Have you had food from roadside stalls? According to the news in Malaysia, a food poisoning incident results in two dead and forty others suffering pain, fearful of an untimely end. A high price to pay for a simple local delicacy. Fingers are being pointed at the stall owner, while the stall owner stays reclusive and stands his ground when interviewed by reporters.
It really is a shame when something as simple as a local delicacy that you craved can be the cause of such misery. Instead of putting the blame onto someone else, let’s assess some pointers on how to be safe when eating out, shall we?
Where to eat what?
Malaysians are fiercely passionate about their food but sometimes lack that passion when it comes to food safety. Street food, ‘bawah pokok’ stalls, and generally unkempt areas found aplenty.
Malaysian authorities are diligent in monitoring and regulating eateries to keep that at a high standard of hygiene for the very purpose of keeping the Rakyat safe from illness such as the one the victims in the above story are suffering from.
The main legislation regarding food safety is the Food Safety Act of 1983. This has been amended as of 2009 though.
Surely also you see the cleanliness rating in certain restaurants being prominently displayed as category A,B,C etc. These are all points to note prior to eating in a restaurant. The local roadside stalls though do not all employ such standards despite the food on offer being tremendously awesome. In these circumstances, it is crucial for you to take simple measures like washing your hand before and after eating to keep as safe as possible.
Also be on the lookout for staff hygiene and general mannerisms. If someone is picking food up off the floor, it is best to avoid this eatery. Likewise, if you see people using the pavement behind the eatery as an outdoor toilet, I would definitely avoid this place.
You should also take note on how long the food items have been on display and the environment they are displayed in as well. Best to avoid nearly day old curries. Instead opt for food as freshly made to order as possible.
That said, we should always prepare for the possibility of a stomach bug or something sinister to the body especially after eating out.
Here, we’ll go over the basic points to identifying and managing a bout of food poisoning or gastroenteritis.
What is food poisoning?
By definition, food poisoning is an illness caused by eating contaminated food (from the same source) affecting more than three people at a time. In a situation where the amount of people showing symptoms is few, it can be case of gastroenteritis (inflammation of the gut caused by toxins you’re introduced to it via the food).
What causes this?
Basically bacteria is everywhere and some of them are recognised as foreign to the body causing it to demonstrate symptoms. Cooking your food usually kills germs before we eat it. Foods eaten raw are common sources of food poisoning because they don’t go through the cooking process.
Occasionally, food will come in contact with some form of faecal matter. This most commonly happens when a person preparing food doesn’t wash their hands before cooking. Meat, eggs, and dairy products are frequently contaminated. Water may also be contaminated with organisms that cause illness. The person who is preparing the food should also be generally free of transmissible illnesses.
Signs and Symptoms
Food poisoning symptoms vary with the source of contamination. Most types of food poisoning cause one or more of the following signs and symptoms:
- Watery or bloody diarrhoea
- Abdominal pain and cramps
Signs and symptoms may start within hours after eating the contaminated food, or they may begin days or even weeks later. Sickness caused by food poisoning generally lasts from a few hours to several days.
How bad can it get?
Well, as we now know, it can cause death in some people. It can however range from being a few mild episodes of loose stools or vomiting to more severe forms requiring hospitalisation.
The young, the elderly and the people who have a compromised immune system (people who are currently ill, or have an autoimmune disease) are at the greatest risk of serious consequences of most of these sort of illness.
How can I take care of myself at home?
Food poisoning often improves without treatment within 48 hours. This is usually after multiple bouts of vomiting, belly cramps, vomiting, nausea and maybe a light fever in some cases. To help keep yourself more comfortable and prevent dehydration while you recover, try the following:
- Let your stomach settle. Stop eating and drinking for a few hours.
- Try sucking on ice chips or taking small sips of water. You might also try drinking clear soda, clear broth or non-caffeinated sports drinks, such as Gatorade. You’re getting enough fluid when you’re urinating normally and your urine is clear and not dark.
- Ease back into eating. Gradually begin to eat bland, low-fat, easy-to-digest foods, such as soda crackers, toast, gelatin, bananas and rice. Stop eating if your nausea returns.
- Avoid certain foods and substances until you’re feeling better. These include dairy products, caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, and fatty or highly seasoned foods.
- Rest. The illness and dehydration can weaken and tire you.
Over the counter medication:
- Oral rehydration salts – this helps to keep you nourished whilst staying hydrated. They are no means a meal replacement though.
- Anti emetics (medications to stop vomiting)
- Anti diarrhoea’s
When should I seek medical help?
If you experience any of the following signs or symptoms, seek medical attention.
- Frequent episodes of vomiting and inability to keep liquids down (meaning you throw up within minutes of eating)
- Bloody vomit or stools
- Diarrhoea for more than three days
- Extreme pain or severe abdominal cramping
- An oral temperature higher than 38 C
- Signs or symptoms of dehydration — excessive thirst, dry mouth, little or no urination, severe weakness, dizziness, or lightheadedness
- Neurological symptoms such as blurry vision, muscle weakness and tingling in the arms
Is food poisoning preventable?
It is always advisable to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and hot water before and after preparing food, as well as after handling each different kind of food. This is regardless of whether you are eating out or preparing your own meals.
In addition to that, try and adhere to these tips:-
- Keep raw and cooked food separate at all times.
- Use separate cutting boards for raw meats and vegetables.
- Hot foods should be maintained above 60 degrees Celsius, and cold foods should be stored below 4 degrees Celsius Use a food thermometer and be sure to cook meats thoroughly and at adequately high temperatures (165 degrees F for chicken and turkey, for example).
- Refrigerate leftovers promptly.
- Avoid foods that have been kept at room temperature for more than two hours.
I realise there is a lot of gloom in this article but really, as long as you take simple precautionary steps to keep yourself safe when enjoying your favourite meal, there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. Here’s to hoping you’re eating well and in good health.
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