To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

To Eat Or Not To Eat?!?

I remember the first time I ate out at a fast food outlet. It was with my mum and brother at a place called Kingsway Rendezvous sometimes in the mid 1980s. At that time eating out hadn’t caught up as a favorite pastime, and the idea of fast food outlets was still in its infancy in Nigeria and limited to major cities like Lagos, Ibadan, & Port Harcourt.

But now almost 30 years afterwards, fast food outlets of various shades and grades litter the nation’s landscape. From the major players with franchises in almost every major city to the small town new entrants.

It appears many of these fast food outlets essentially pay very little thoughts to keeping a food safety/hygiene regimen and are more concerned on increasing the profit margin of the business. The idea of checking temperature of food, providing thermometers, using sanitizers, using color coded chopping boards, and even food handlers training and medical tests are viewed as overheads that can be conveniently avoided to push up the profit margin, particularly because there is no effective monitoring and enforcement body in the country. Very few local governments enforce their statutory duties of food business inspection for sanitation and hygiene compliance. The low pay and high turnover rate of fast food outlet workers doesn’t help either such that new staff are always needed to replace those that leave and training new staff again and again and again can be seen as unnecessary expenditure.

In other words there is always a food borne illness risk exposure every time one eats at these fast food outlets.

So how would one know where to eat or not to eat in order to minimize the risk of food-borne illness?

Eating from a recognized brand outlet is good guide. Or eating at an upscale outlet could tend to give an assurance of safe food. Or eating at an outlet with a track record of zero food-borne illness complaints. Or eating at an outlet with well designed and clean and well decorated sitting tables & chairs. All these are good guides, but they may let one down eventually cuz looks and appearance of the sitting areas and serving points doesn’t give a true picture of the state of where the food itself is prepared and track records have a way of failing unexpectedly.

One way that I typically determine if a fast food outlet or restaurant is ok for me to eat out is to “case the toilet” as in like to “case a joint”. That is to check out the state of the toilet facility of the food business. The state of the toilet in a food business facility is usually a reflection of the state of the kitchen where the food is coming from, which in many a cases is hidden away from the view of the customers.

A clean toilet with well stocked hand wash liquid soap, well fragranced, running water and a cleaning schedule posted on the wall of the toilet is indicative of a food business with good hygiene, cleanliness, and sanitation culture and values. And this you can be sure extends to the kitchen hygiene and sanitation.

However a toilet with broken door handle/knobs, exposed light bulbs, leaking hand wash tap, stained hand wash sink, broken toilet cover, empty soap dispenser, depleted toilet paper, no cover on the toilet WC, bad flushing handle, water puddle on the floor, cracked tiles and ceiling cover, and with no cleaning schedule visibly displayed is a red flag to me any day any time. I can bet you on your dollar that such a place will have a kitchen with poor hygiene and sanitation standards with high risk of food-borne illness.

Before you check out the menu at the serving line, check out the toilet first. This may spare you the trouble of frequent trips to your own toilet when you get back home!

To “case a joint” is an idiomatic expression which means: to check out the details to, and make speculations about, a home, car, store or other location by looking the place over. Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com

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“Germs No Dey Kill Africans”

I once had a chat with a lady who works as a kitchen staff in an hotel here in Eket. In the course of our discussion about food safety practices & food-borne illness she told me, with a wide grin on her mouth, “oga, germs no dey kill Africans” (literally translated “boss, germs do not kill Africans”). I shot back at her “germs no dey do wetin?” (“germs do not do what?”), she replied with certitude “e no dey kill Africans now” (“it doesn’t kill Africans”). O dear, I thought…where did she get this hypothesis from? In my mind I couldn’t help thinking that observing proper food safety practices when preparing meals for customers would be the least of her worries if she really believes that germs don’t kill Africans. So I asked her if she had ever seen or heard of folks who fall ill or die as a result of eating contaminated food. She replied curtly “dat one fit happen…if dem put something for food for the person” (“it’s possible…if the food is poisoned by someone of malicious intent”). As far as she was concerned, food-borne illness can only occur where food is deliberately contaminated or poisoned. The opinion of this individual is actually an exception and not the rule, I haven’t come across anyone with such thoughts before and after my encounter with her. Nevertheless this false conception that the African race is immune to germs gave me a cause of concern, especially that it was coming from a food handler who ought to have been trained in basic food safety, and demonstrated how much work still needs to be done in educating the public about the danger of food-borne illness and as a matter of fact, other communicable diseases.