Just like terrorists, deadly bacteria and toxins are waiting to harm us. These invisible, tasteless microbes may be hiding in your macaroni salad, spaghetti or cassava cake. So, keep these tips in mind:
1. Avoid or limit eating mayonnaise and milk-based foods. Especially during the hot weather, the first foods to get spoiled are those with milk, mayonnaise, and cheese. If you can’t avoid the temptation, just take in a small scoop and just in case it’s bacteria-infested, you’ll still survive to tell the tale.
2. Use your senses. First, the nose knows. If it smells funny, fishy or foul, then don’t eat it. Second, use you taste buds. If the seafood pancit canton tastes like a familiar eight-legged vermin, then spit it out. Cockroaches have a way of getting themselves cooked. Third, seeing is believing. Look inside vegetable leaves and overripe mangoes for those white, crawly maggots. And make sure those dark spots on the meat are black pepper and not vermin eggs.
3. Avoid poorly-cooked meat. For some people, ordering a rare steak makes them feel sophisticated. But there’s nothing special in having beef tapeworms living in your gut similar to aliens. There are some regions where beef tapeworms, pork tapeworms, and fish tapeworms are endemic. And despite what others say, the parasites in the kilawin and sushi cannot be killed by vinegar or wasabe. So, the next time you order your steak, say “well done.”
4. Choose very hot items over cold foods. Studies show that Chinese people have less incidence of stomach disorders compared to the Japanese. Experts think this is because the Chinese like their tea, rice, and food piping hot, unlike the Japanese who have their cold sushi and sashimi. Hot chicken soup warms the stomach. Be careful with reheated food, too.
5. Choose dry over wet foods. Wet food items spoil faster than dry ones. Limit eating the uncooked sauces, like bagoong, gravy, and taco sauces. Fried chicken, fried pork chop, and grilled fish take a long time to spoil. Incidentally, these are the perfect items to bring to your summer outings. As mentioned, food items with milky sauces and those exposed to the hot weather spoil quickly.
6. Take a few safe dishes only. You have been in this situation before. A friend invites you to his humble home where a caterer has prepared eight dishes. Suddenly, you notice a few flies feasting on the dinuguan and waiters pouring soup in plastic gallons. So, how can you be courteous while avoiding an upset stomach? Answer: Play the percentages. In a food poisoning outbreak, there is usually just one spoiled food. Given eight suspicious delicacies, just take in more of the safer items and avoid the doubtful items. For fillers, plain rice is much safer than fried rice.
7. Order vegetables in safe places only. Vegetables are rich in vitamins and healthy fiber, but the problem lies in food preparation. The infamous Typhoid Mary, so named because she carried the typhoid bacteria in her stools, actually killed her employers by insisting on preparing vegetable salads with poorly-washed hands. Typhoid, parasites, and other microbes are very prevalent in the country.
8. Only bottled or canned drinks, please. Drinking tap water may be dangerous. So, to be safe, use bottled, boiled, and purified drinks only. And since ice is made out of tap water, use a straw or drink straight from the can instead. For sago and gulaman lovers, are they using clean water?
9. Avoid or limit street food. For queck-queck, fishball, and “dirty” ice cream lovers, be careful with these foods. The sauces are a haven for bacteria: the mouth-watering bagoong for the green mango, and the recycled fish ball sauce where everybody dips in delight. Although I must admit, I do enjoy a hot taho every now and then.
Ideally, all food handlers must pass stringent tests for their blood, urine, and stool, but who would shoulder the additional costs? Hence, choose where and from whom you buy your food. And unless it’s a well-known fast-food chain, or a respected restaurant, be forewarned.
10. Eat home-cooked meals. Mother/wife knows best. Eating at home is, of course, the safest if you take a few precautions, too. Like refrigerating left-over meals as soon as possible and discarding them in a few days. Finally, remember the basic rule: Wash your hands before and after eating.
So, be safe and avoid food poisoning. Clean food items may cost a bit more, but it’s better to be safe than sorry.