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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Don’t Mishandle Me

If food could speak, these three words would probably be their motto. On a daily basis in this country, food is regularly mishandled. When I talk of mishandling food I mean carelessly handling food before eating.

I read about an outbreak of food-borne illness that occurred years ago in Ibadan, Nigeria, that claimed 20 lives. The outbreak resulted from sandwiches that were poorly handled. It was reported that the sandwiches were prepared in Lagos and kept without refrigeration until consumption the next day at Ibadan. When food is mishandled like this, it responds by baring its fangs with disastrous and often fatal consequences.

Mishandling of food occurs in many forms in homes and food businesses:

  • Leaving left-over food unrefrigerated to eat the next day or even several days after.
  • Defrosting frozen food on the kitchen shelf at room temperature.
  • Buying frozen food from the market (or supermarket) and not heading home straight to store in freezer.
  • Inadequate and improper heating of food.
  • Leaving food exposed and uncovered.
  • Preparing food with unwashed hands.
  • Preparing food too far in advance.
  • Using same utensils to prepare raw food and ready to eat food.
  • Keeping or storing ready-to-eat foods like cold sandwiches and salads at room temperature

These are all examples of poor food handling. Many folks do these things inadvertently and unknowingly but this doesn’t spare them the heart ache and ill health that results from it.

At a time when I was handling inflight catering for an airline, we served onboard an egg & mayo sandwich option on the breakfast menu. Nicely packaged in plastic sandwich packs it was a hit with passengers on the early morning domestic flights out of Lagos. But there was a problem; passengers were actually taking the sandwiches off with them when they disembarked at their destination. Why this was a problem was that egg & mayonnaise are highly perishable and high risk food that needs to be held in the chill chain to keep safe to eat and we weren’t sure how passengers were handling the sandwiches after the flight. We were concerned that someone would turn up later on to claim that he got food poisoning from the airline’s sandwich. My boss at that time, Paul Sharp (am certain he will get to read this post soon) decided we had to include a caveat note on the packaging of the sandwich strongly advising passengers that the sandwich be consumed on board during the flight.

Don’t Mishandle Me…that’s a warning that is wise to heed from food & drinks.