Foodborne illnesses are a severe threat to health and can be prevented by safe food preparation and handling
BY KHIRTINI K KUMARAN
TWO MONTHS into the endemic phase, almost all industries and businesses are now operating at full capacity and without restrictions. Food establishments have also opened to serve Malaysians eager to resume eating out.
The pandemic had given rise to a thriving food delivery business with numerous players, big and small, jumping onto the bandwagon.
So, how safe is it to order food online or resume eating out? Do these companies ensure their food handlers and other staff practise good hygiene standards? Are the containers used to store and transport the food washed and sanitised regularly?
We must be wary of not only Covid-19 but also the long-standing problem of foodborne illnesses. Food poisoning is common in Malaysia due to the country’s hot and humid climate, which is ideal for the growth of foodborne bacteria.
According to Norrani Eksan, Director of Compliance and Industry Development from the Food Safety & Quality Division (FSQD), Ministry of Health (MoH), food poisoning is a foodborne illness most associated with food handling.
“Foodborne diseases in Malaysia based on data on food poisoning episodes nationwide reported in 2021 shows a decrease of 31.6 per cent to 197 episodes from 288 episodes in 2020.”
Food poisoning outbreaks are caused by unhygienic food handling and poor sanitary conditions. The food’s quality is determined by the level of hygiene and safety practices used.
As a result, whether food service facilities are clean and sanitised, employees are vaccinated, and following hygienic and safe food handling practices arise.
Cross-contamination and transmission
As the demand for online food deliveries has increased, who manages the food delivery safety protocols?
Therefore, cleanliness is essential to avoid food contamination and illness among consumers during food preparation.
“When food handlers do not properly cook or serve the food and do not apply food hygiene practices, it is easy for cross-contamination to occur and leads to food poisoning,” explained Norrani.
“Time-temperature abuse during cooking, storing, and holding the prepared food has been identified as the primary factor contributing to the food poisoning cases.
“Improper techniques of thawing raw materials which lead to undercooked food also causes food poisoning.”
Based on a research article on ‘An overview of foodborne illness and food safety in Malaysia’ from the International Food Research Food Journal, the most common food poisoning outbreaks take place due to the ingestion of pathogenic bacteria like Salmonella Typhi, Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, Vibrio cholera, Campylobacter jejuni, and Listeria monocytogenes.
This is usually caused by the microorganisms in the infected person’s intestinal tract secreting toxins.
“Thus, in preventing food poisoning, the MoH continuously promotes and encourages the public to always practice See, Smell & Taste (Lihat, Hidu & Rasa) before consuming any food.”
While the Covid-19 situation appears to be under control, we must remain vigilant for new variant outbreaks and transmissions.
Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (FOMCA) President Datuk Dr Marimuthu Nadason said: “Although there is no proven evidence that Covid-19 is a foodborne illness, it may still be transmitted during food manufacturing and processing activities.
“Some aspects of food safety such as personal hygiene, kitchen sanitation, and sanitisation should still be emphasised greatly.”
Food safety management
The MoH established the FSQD to ensure that food processing activities meet hygiene and safety standards. It also oversees food safety throughout the supply chain, including any food-related hazards or frauds that could disrupt the supply chain and put food safety at risk.
“The food safety standards practised in Malaysia are; Food Act 1983, Food Regulation 1985, and Food Hygiene Regulation 2009,” said Marimuthu.
Norrani said food contamination and foodborne diseases can occur in any foodservice if there is a lack of awareness about the importance of food safety.
“All foodservice operators must ensure that the food they prepare and sell is clean and safe. As a result, all food handlers must complete a food handler training course and obtain a certificate of Food Handlers Training from an MoH-approved institution.”
According to Regulation 30(1), Food Hygiene Regulations 2009, all food handlers shall undergo training and obtain a certificate of Food Handlers Training from Food Handlers Training Institution (SLPM) approved by the MoH.
The training programme aims to create awareness among food handlers about the significance of personal hygiene and sanitation on the premises. There have been 365 MoH-approved SLPMs throughout the country until now.
Norrani continued: “In addition, food manufacturers are mandatory to develop their Food Quality Assurance Programme such as Makanan Selamat Tanggungjawab Industri (MeSTI), Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP), and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP), as required in Food Hygiene Regulations 2009.
“The MoH is also actively promoting food safety control scheme for other food businesses such as restaurants and other food premise outlets, such as BeSS, Trust My Catering, and My Food Tag, to ensure safe food for everyone.”
Reg. 30(3) of the Food Hygiene Regulations 2009 states: Any food handler working on any food premise who fails to undergo the food handler training or fails to obtain the certificate commits an offence and shall, on conviction, be liable to a fine not exceeding RM10,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding two years.
However, it is to be noted that food handler training may not reach unregistered food handlers, such as those working at hawker stalls, food vendors or home-based food businesses.
Online purchasing and food deliveries
During the lockdown and Movement Control Order (MCO), online food sales soared, particularly among home-based food operators. Food delivery services like GrabFood and FoodPanda also gained traction during the lockdown, and they’re here to stay as we enter the endemic phase.
One must wonder if these untrained home operators and delivery workers are knowledgeable and practise proper food handling, preparation and packaging.
When it comes to delivery services and online purchasing Norrani said: “Since food safety is everyone’s business, all personnel including owner or occupier of the food premises, chef, and all food handlers in the kitchen and riders involved in handling and delivering the food to customers are responsible for ensuring the safety and quality of the food.
“Thus, the MoH has published a guideline on the food safety for the food sold online (Garispanduan Keselamatan Makanan bagi Produk Makanan yang Dijual Secara Dalam Talian (Online)), which has detailed all the food safety procedures for the food purchased through an online delivery system.”
However, there is no regulatory framework for online food businesses and delivery services regarding food handling and safety, which undoubtedly leads to negligence.
Obviously, the delivery service boxes or bags used by some, if not all food delivery companies, are old, worn out, and filthy. How often are these bags sanitised and cleaned or replaced?
Not to mention the risk of cross-contamination from some food packages that are not entirely sealed and loaded into these damaged and unsanitary bags.
The Health reached out to food delivery companies Grab and FoodPanda to learn more about their food and delivery bag safety protocols. Grab declined comment while FoodPanda failed to respond. — The Health
Fast-growing food delivery sector
THE PANDEMIC has accelerated the growth of online delivery services into a multi-million-ringgit industry. The deliveries range from parcels to food to groceries.
According to the Statista Market Forecast in 2020, Malaysia’s online food delivery market was valued at US$192 million, with 6.2 million consumers, and is expected to grow 17.9 per cent annually to achieve a revenue of US$370 million in four years.
Online food delivery services saw exceptional growth as people were confined to their homes and became reliant on takeouts. But it is a crowded field as many companies have jumped into the bandwagon in the last two years.
Most food delivery operators offer a wide selection of takeout meals from various F&B merchants. Even fast-food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s and PizzaHut have their own-curated online delivery services.
In Malaysia, there are two types of online food ordering and delivery services; Super apps, which provide added services such as transport e-hailing and/or financial transactions, or pure food and/or grocery delivery platforms.
Foodpanda was the first food delivery company that started growing rapidly in Malaysia since its establishment in 2012.
GrabFood and FoodPanda are the two biggest food delivery operators and cover significant cities nationwide with over 100 million and 50 million app installations. They have been in service for the past decade.
Other platforms capturing a growing portion of Malaysia’s food delivery market share include:
- airasia food
- Delivery Eat
- Beep Delivery
However, it also raises the question of whether this industry is tightly regulated by the authorities to ensure the players involved practice the highest hygiene standards. — The Health