No more dirty eateries

ABOUT two weeks ago, there was a video in which workers of a restaurant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, were seen washing dishes in a puddle of water. Following this, the authorities closed down the restaurant. In addition, three notices were issued under the Food Act 1985, stating that the operators did not get the anti-typhoid vaccination, they did not attend training on proper food handling and there was no formal registration with the Ministry of Health.

Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur and the Federal Territories Ministry took quick action to respond to a public health threat.

Thumbs up as well for Petaling Jaya City Council health officers and councillor Sean Oon who conducted random checks and closed down several dirty restaurants in Petaling Jaya. They found unhygienic practices including rats and cockroaches hidden in corners of cupboards, washing and cooking in the back lane and no proper grease traps to prevent grease and grime flowing into the drain.

Since January, MBPJ has shut down 59 restaurants out of 250 units inspected.

Other local authorities are also keeping tabs on restaurants in their areas.

In Penang, Seberang Prai Municipal Council has issued 70 notices this year to dirty restaurants and eateries.

On Penang Island, council mayor Yew Tong Seang said they would keep checking eateries. Spot checks were conducted on 486 outlets and were given grades from A to C. Any outlet that failed to fulfil minimum cleanliness requirements was asked by the Health Department to close for 14 days for upgrading work.

Since 2012, Pahang has come up with the "Bersih, Selamat dan Sihat (BeSS)" recognition from the Health Ministry for food operators who comply with four criteria, including maintaining clean premises, serving safe food, healthy food choices and suitable portions to meet individual needs.

Food is needed for survival and good health. Eating is also linked to pleasure and culture. People celebrate important occasions by sharing food, and develop passionate opinions about the food that they like. Food is such an important and every day part of life that Hokkien Chinese are fond of greeting one another with "chiak pa boey?" meaning "have you eaten?" Many people do not mind queuing to eat at their favourite restaurants.

However, diseases can be easily spread by unhygienic and unsafe food preparation.

Therefore the emphasis must be on good hygiene practices to prevent and control food-borne diseases. The food we eat should be free from contaminants, including bacteria and chemicals. At home, we can ensure food safety by preparing our own food. However, many families have no time to cook at home, so they often buy food or eat out.

Because of that, businesses handling food preparation must make sure that employees maintain a high level of personal hygiene and practice. They should wear clean clothing, cover their hair, and avoid spitting, coughing or sneezing when preparing food. They must be trained in food hygiene and food safety management procedures.

These businesses have an obligation to ensure customers are protected from food poisoning and other food-borne illnesses. For long term trust and reputation, they should strive to ensure their products and services meet the quality and food safety standards expected of them. There should not be any interference from politicians regarding the food safety and hygienic operations of local authorities so that effective enforcement of legal requirements can be carried out positively.

Customers have every right to be served hygienic food and drinks with clean utensils. They can encourage restaurant proprietors to rise up to top food safety standards by boycotting or not patronising dirty restaurants. In addition, word of mouth and social media have the ability to spread the bad news to force restaurants to maintain high standards or close down. The media can also play a role in educating the public on proper channels to lodge complaints of dirty eateries.

Cultivating a reputation for clean and healthy as well as delicious food does not only help restaurants and food vendors grow their business. It also ensures that residents take pride in their neighbourhoods and cities, and visitors continue to sample our unique local cuisines while appreciating other historical and cultural sites.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: