Banner Top


Feature Story Title


Feature Story


Half-cooked food, bulging can lids, foul-smelling meat, and other food lapses that shouldn't slide by you this season.

by Adrienne Dy, M.D.


According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, one in six Americans get sick from contaminated food. While there is currently no similar Philippine data, it is possibly just as rampant, albeit underreported. Lino Macasaet, M.D., Department of Health (DOH) program manager for food-and-water-borne diseases, says most local incidents occur in the rural setting due to red-tide laden seafood. In urban areas, most cases happen in schools or offices, where accidentally contaminated food gets mass-distributed.

Defining the danger

How does food go from good to gruesome? Senior science research specialist Ruby Apilado, Ph.D. of the Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), describes three mechanisms of food-borne illness:

• Food ingestion: Disease-causing organisms are taken in sufficient amounts to colonize the digestive system. Usual culprits: Salmonella typhi and Vibrio cholera.

• Food intoxication: Pre-formed toxins, or poison created by organisms while outside the digestive tract, are ingested. Usual culprits: botulinum toxin and staphylococcal toxin.

• Toxico-infection: A combination of the two; ingested organisms thrive in the digestive system and then form toxins while inside. Usual culprit: Bacillus aurelius.

Predictably, food-borne illness manifests with gastrointestinal symptoms such as vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhea. Occasionally, neurologic signs like numbness and paralysis occur. The American Medical Association states that food-borne illness and viral syndromes present themselves similarly, but neurologic signs, bloody diarrhea and the absence of muscle and joint pain make the former a more likely diagnosis. Timing and patient history are also crucial; the DOH defines food-borne illness as the development of at least two symptoms within 30 minutes of contaminated food intake.

Farm to fork

To nip food-borne illness in the bud, it is necessary to start at the source: food harvesting, packaging and processing. According to Dr. Apilado, two agencies police the industry: the Department of Agriculture (DOA) for raw food, and the DOH Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for processed food. The DOA follows the Code of Good Agricultural Practices when it comes to pesticides for plants and hormonal or antibiotic intervention for animals. The FDA grants food manufacturers the license to operate, subject to compliance with hazard analyses and critical control point inspections.

Next are the eateries, including restaurants, canteens and food stalls. Ideally, they should comply with the Local Government Unit’s Code of Sanitation—but lapses in control do happen, probably due to a lack of trained inspectors.

Clean water is also crucial to food safety. Tap water, especially in urban areas, is already clean and chlorinated, as prescribed by the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water (PNSDW). However, because pipes may have contaminants, it is necessary to boil water before drinking.

Proactive consumer protection

Consumers should be proactive in screening what is purchased, prepared and served. Dr. Apilado’s tips on avoiding meal maladies follow:

• Grocery

o Check canned goods: Lid bulging can indicate the presence of gas-forming bacteria; rust or dents can mean breaches in sealing.

o Avoid frozen food with signs of thawing.

o Do grocery shopping last; minimal transport time facilitates immediate storage of perishable goods.

• Market

o Inspect color: pork should be bright pink; beef, cherry red; fish, no red eyes. All meat should be firm with no foul smell.

o Check the display or storage. Items like seafood should be kept on ice as they spoil quickly.

• Home

o Practice proper hand-washing—the number one way to reduce food-borne disease.

o Wash vegetables well. Potable water is enough. Chemical rinses are effective—but they can also kill off good bacteria. o Avoid cross-contamination. Use clean kitchenware. Employ separate chopping boards and utensils for meat and vegetables, and wash hands before handling another type of food.

o Cook thoroughly. Salmonella and other bacteria thrive in half-cooked food.

o Don’t leave food standing. Room temperature—28 to 32°C—facilitates organism growth. Store food properly (see sidebar).

For more on this, plus food storage tips, get your copy of the December-January issue of HealthToday magazine, out now in major bookstores and newsstands.

Unhealthy Eating

blog comments powered by Disqus

Banner Bottom