Dicing with danger: Lack of hygiene among food handlers, especially foreign workers, can result in serious foodborne diseases.
KUALA LUMPUR: Almost all foreign workers tested in a study were found to be carrying microbes which could cause food poisoning and even death, and a small percentage of them harboured antibiotic resistant bacteria, said researchers.
And temporary closure of dirty food eateries is not enough; the Government needs to address the systemic issue, they said.
A recent finding by a team of researchers from Universiti Malaya, led by Assoc Prof Dr Siti Nursheena Mohd Zain, found a high prevalence of food poisoning bacteria on the hands of foreign workers working in the food service industry.
The parasitologist said that from hand swabs taken from 383 legal migrant workers handling food in three cities – Ipoh, Kuala Terengganu and Shah Alam – almost all indicated a potential health hazard.
In the paper, 「Microorganism as indicator of hygiene status among foreign food handlers in Peninsular Malaysia」, Dr Siti Nursheena and her team found a shocking 99.5% of workers sampled possessed high levels of Aerobic Plate Count (APC) exceeding acceptable standards.
Products showing unusually high APCs are potential health hazards, pending pathogen screening results.
The APC were higher among Indians followed by the Nepalese.
The APC was also higher among cooks, according to the paper published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health last October.
It also showed that 64% of workers sampled had high counts of Staphylococcus aureus which exceeded acceptable levels of hygiene while one-fifth showed high levels of Escherichia coli (E. coli).
Most of the time, Staphylococcus bacteria does not cause serious problems but can turn deadly if the bacteria enters the bloodstream, joints, bones, lungs or heart.
E. coli, a diverse group of bacteria, can cause diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, respiratory illness and pneumonia.
「Food handlers are a source of foodborne disease outbreaks in Malaysia.
「The findings indicate high probability of transmission of pathogenic bacteria from the food handlers』 hands to customers during meal preparation and serving and this calls for improvements in personal hygiene and sanitation standards by the relevant health authorities,」 Dr Siti Nursheena told The Star.
Recently, shocking images of unhygienic practices in some popular restaurants – from kitchen workers washing dishes using water from puddles in the back alley of a restaurant, to rat and other vermin infestation in some well-known eateries in Kuala Lumpur – had emerged, raising concerns on public health.