January 16, 2018

Official in Malaysia Gives Dangerous Food Safety Advice

foodsafetyblooperssmA story in the New Straits Times has revealed that a public health official in Malaysia has given citizens some very dangerous food safety advice. Dr. Orthman Warijo, vice-president of the Malaysian Public Health Physicians’ Association said, “look at the physical appearance of the food to find out if the gravy has become sticky. Sniff the food to determine if it is rotten. Taste the food. If one is confident that the food is edible, then one can proceed. Otherwise, leave it.”

That advice is completely wrong. Pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium botulinum, and Campylobacter do not change the appearance, taste, texture, or smell of the food. The bacteria that make you sick are invisible, colorless, tasteless, and odorless. Even when there are enough bacteria in the food to produce toxins, the toxins do not affect color, taste, appearance, or aroma. Just 10 E. coli cells can make you very sick; you cannot see that cluster in food. More than 100,000 E. coli cells would fit comfortably on a pin head.

Experts at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln state, “it is impossible to determine whether a food is contaminated with pathogenic microorganisms without microbiological testing.” In fact, bacteria that cause spoilage of food are not the same bacteria that make humans beings sick. Bacteria that commonly spoil fresh meat, for instance, include Pseudomonas, Acinetobacter, and Moraxella.

In addition, Dr. Warijo blamed consumers for getting sick, saying, “victims of food poisoning often blamed food handlers when they themselves ignored safety procedures before eating.” There is no way in the world that a consumer can tell if a food they are eating has been contaminated by deadly bacteria. The only way to ensure that food is as safe as possible is if food handlers purchase safe food, follow good sanitary practices, avoid cross-contamination, cook food properly to a safe temperature, and hold food at a safe temperature. Blaming the consumer is completely irresponsible.

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