Eat Safe

By Sarasi Paranamanna
Usually the food packages we purchase contain a date of expiration. Is it really not good to consume food that has been bought after the stamped “best before” date or “best until” date has been passed? Well, as the phrase suggests the food contained in these packages are obviously not in their best form, texture, colour, or worse in their taste, so why are we purchasing expired food items when we can buy fresh food. Most consumers do not realise that they have purchased expired food until they open the packages and what about the food items that do not come in packages? Fish, meat diary products are often reported as sold after their expiration.

Today with our busy lifestyles, we always go for easy deals and supermarkets and grocery stores make our lives easy as almost all the household needful including food items can be purchased under one roof. However, sometimes we purchase food items with ease and convenience at the expense of safety because even though we rely on the stores to ensure safety of food, some consumers experience unpleasant encounters after consuming food which are available in supermarkets and grocery stores. The Nation explored this social issue to provide the readers a better insight on safety of food purchased from large scaled stores and super markets.

Legislation drafted
Monitoring the safety of food is extremely important to a government because if contaminated food items are sold, the government has to bear the indirect costs as medical expenses will increase when the citizens fall ill and the overall productivity of the society will decrease, resulting in an unhealthy population. Legislation has been drafted to ensure the hygiene and safety but is it properly followed or enforced? Speaking to The Nation, the Chief Medical Officer at the Colombo Municipal Council, Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam, said that regular monitoring is being carried out by the food inspectors.

The food inspectors monitor the quality and the hygiene of the food items available in supermarkets and grocery stores by acquiring food samples from these stores and directing the samples to micro biology and chemical labs to see whether the proper standards are to being maintained. In addition to regulate the safety of food labeling is inspected to see whether they contain the manufactured date and the expiry date.
Dr. Kariyawasam stated that labels on these food items must contain all three languages so that consumers from all communities are aware of what they are buying and the items’ safety. However, in out-of-Colombo areas, it has been reported that the packages are being relabeled and sold so the food inspectors are especially monitoring these aspects to prevent fraudulent actions and to maintain public health. According to Dr. Kariyawasam, the imported food items are the items which are being reported most as containing relabeled expiry dates, hence authorities have been advised to maintain these standards when selling these products.

Medical hazards
As we are all aware, consuming expired food can be dangerous and even deadly. Hence, to get an insight on the medical aspect The Nation spoke to Dr. Shantha Hettiarachchi at the Health Education Bureau. The Food Administration Department in the Ministry of Health is the authoritative body which sets standards to ensure safety and hygiene of food items. According to statistics from the WHO, around 2 million people die through consuming contaminated food. Dr. Hettiarachchi said that the expired food contains parasites, bacteria and viruses which lead to various diseases. There is a possibility of 67 % for the viruses in these food items to operate and cause food borne disease, and a possibility of 30%for the bacteria to cause diseases and around 3% for the parasites to cause food borne diseases.

According to Dr. Shantha Hettiarachchi, the common disease which can be seen in patients who have consumed contaminated food is, gastroenteritis which results in acute diarrhea and this condition is cause by three kinds of viruses known as adeno, parvo and enteric. Even though the disease is collectively known as gastroenteritis there are two types of diarrhea. Watery and bloody diarrhoeas are the two main types of diarrhea. Vomiting is evident in watery diarrhea and bloody diarrhoea releases blood and Dr Hettiarachchi said that watery diarrhea is caused mainly by E.OLI bacteria and the campylobacter bacteria and that bloody diarrhea is caused by bacteria known as shigella and salomonella.

Further Dr. Hettiarachi stated that contaminated food and water might cause typhoid fever which is caused by the bacteria typhoid salmonella. Typhoid fever is mainly caused by processed food usually through food handlers’ unhygienic practices. Severe headaches, fever according to a severity ladder, skin rashes might occur as symptoms within 10-14 days after the consumption of contaminated food. In addition diseases like hepatitis B, which has symptoms like yellowish skin and eyes, dark urine and anorexia, might be evident after eating expired food.

Prevent contamination
Dr. Hettiarachi said that the proper attention should be directed towards the hygiene levels of food contamination to prevent these kind diseases. He further mentioned that medical attention should be given as soon as patients develop symptoms like watery bowel movements associated with fever and headache because the doctor can advise required treatment to be given according to the situation. Dr.Shantha Hettiarachchi stressed on the point that affected patients should always make sure the that they stay clean and wash their hands properly after going to the toilet to avoid further spreading of these diseases.
The main responsibility which has to taken up by supermarkets and grocery stores is to ensure proper methods are used to retain the safety of food items both dry and fresh items because at the end of the day their aim should be retain customer loyalty. With profit expectations the business bodies have an ethical duty to ensure their valued customer’s health.

Speaking to The Nation Charitha Sahabandu from Keells supermarkets stated that Keells ensures the safety of the customers as they have strict regulations to follow in order to retain the safety and hygiene of the food items. “We concentrate on the dry food department and the fresh department because a chain of activities contribute to the proper safety standards of both types of food items” said Sahabandu.
The authoritative bodies in the Keells supermarket chain actually visit the production units of their suppliers to check on the quality of food handling even packaging units are visited see whether proper packaging methods are being followed.
In this manner they ensure that the customer gets the best and the safest items giving value for the money spent. In addition, Sahabandu stated that they have a stand by power supply and that they always keep the chillers and refrigerators switched on at their required temperatures to preserve the quality of food.

Monitoring methods
Monitoring is done twice a day to check whether proper temperatures are maintained in the refrigeration system. Food safety is monitored at Keells by checking the source of the product, handling of the product and the quality storage methods. “The safety of food items like meat and fish which do not carry a date of expiration are sent in bulk and the Keells food factory informs us for how long can the products be kept in their best form and we order the goods according to sales figures, so even if some items aren’t sold they are in minute quantities” stated Sahabandu.

The leftovers are destroyed through disposing and Sahabandu said that the expired food is disposed straight away and not sold to anyone for further use or recycling purposes as Keells is extremely careful about the safety of food items.

Despite the complains some supermarkets and groceries are responsible enough to maintain the safety of food, but it is the consumer who must be alert and aware about the product that he is buying and about its quality because the bottom line is that people should consume food to survive and not to get affected or die from consuming food. Hence the consumer should always check the labels and if it’s an item like fish or meat always remember to look at the color and texture of the product.
Even after opening the packed food items it is safe to check the texture smell of the food before consuming because even if one has purchased expired food and think that it is a waste of money to dispose the food item one should always remember that health is wealth.


Consumers’ perception
Consumers always expect high standards of hygiene and safety of food items from supermarkets with the price they pay for their purchased items Chamari who is a housewife said that she always expects the food to be fresh in supermarkets.

However, Pathiraja who is a pensioner said that even though he relies on supermarkets for the safety of food he always goes to the fair to buy fresh vegetables. “I think supermarkets have fresh food, even though I have heard of people coming across expired food in supermarkets and groceries I have not encountered such a thing so far,” said S. Mahagama who is a retired Grama Niladari.

Most people purchase food items from supermarkets and groceries expecting the proper safety standards but if the expectation is lost the stores will experience a serious problem in building consumer trust and loyalty. “Even though we expect the food to be fresh and safe sometimes we come across expired food so the best thing is to properly examine them when you are buying,” said Jiffry. However, consumers continue to believe in the large scaled groceries and supermarkets if they have not come across such a situation. M.R. Perera who is a housewife thinks that supermarkets are the best place to purchase food items that are safe.