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Doctors Blame Street Food for Surge in Ramadhaan Illnesses

Doctors Blame Street Food for Surge in Ramadhaan Illnesses
Sarah Abdullah, Arab News
 

JEDDAH, 27 September 2007 — They’ve become so many that they’re literally a classic sight during Ramadan — peddlers at roadside bazaars offering up sweets, juices and liver sandwiches to famished passers-by who in turn feel that the bazaars are a convenient way of saving both effort and time in preparing food for the iftar (breakfast) and sahour (pre-dawn) meals. But what truly is the hidden cost that many consumers don’t see when they decide to purchase these readymade staples during the holy month?

Simply put the cost is their health, according to a number of doctors who say that consuming foods from open-air eateries located only meters from dusty, exhaust-filled streets is a dangerous risk and a gamble with one’s health.

Dr. Sobhia Mahmoud, a family practitioner at the New Jeddah Clinic Hospital, told Arab News: “Foods such as shawarma and those being sold out in the open are quite susceptible to bacteria with the worst offenders being Staphylococcus aureus, salmonella and e-coli, which are quite dangerous. I advise anyone eating out during Ramadan, or anytime for that matter, to do so in a closed, secluded atmosphere which is usually much more sanitary.”

She added that since Ramadan began there have been a noticeable amount of cases of gastritis, inflammation of the stomach lining, as well as some extreme cases due to eating unhygienic food.

To get a grasp on just how serious the problem is, Arab News toured Jeddah’s roadside eateries from the downtown Balad district to the north of the city, dropping in for visits at periodic times over a number of days. During our inspections we saw and photographed several food servers and venue owners touching food and wrapping it up for sale with their bare hands. We even caught some servers tending to wiping their noses and touching their faces while continuing to distribute food into containers for sale. Not to mention the swarm of flies and other insects occasionally landing for a quick bite.

When asked the reason for not following more hygienic methods of food handling, a venue operator angrily shouted slurs. “Do you want to ruin my business?” and began chasing our photographer.

A woman who was serving up pancakes by hand was also questioned. She only smiled and got up and walked away.

In recent months officials in Madinah and Makkah have been cracking down on unsanitary and usually illegal food operations. Madinah officials recently closed down a restaurant after 23 diners fell ill from consuming salmonella-tainted food, which was linked by investigators to the fingernails of a worker at the restaurant.

Makkah officials also recently shut down a warehouse full of rotten fish and meat in efforts to combat food-borne illnesses.

But the question that still remains is: What about Jeddah. Why have many outlets been blamed for being unhygienic and that too in one of the Kingdom’s largest cities? According to statistics from Cure Research, an independent research organization, Saudi Arabia had reported 132,773 cases of food poisoning in 2005 with the actual number likely to be much higher.

And it’s not just adults who have fallen ill. Dr. Sabri Tantawi, a pediatrician at Tarek Bin Laden Clinic in Al-Mushrefah district of Jeddah, said he has been witnessing an increase in cases of children who have become sick from contaminated food.

“Since the start of Ramadan I have had 10-15 cases of food-borne illnesses with the majority of patients coming in through the Emergency Room,” Tantawi said.

Commenting on the reason for the slow progress in ridding the city of roadside vendors, a municipality official told Arab News that the municipality itself has set forth strict guidelines on the operation of restaurants and has been cracking down on roadside vendors. “But the problem is when the municipality removes a vendor from the road and confiscates the contaminated food, the very next day there is another vendor in the very same place selling another food item,” he said.

The official added that this is what makes the progress non-existent and seem as if the municipality does nothing to contain the problem. “It is quite the contrary,” he said.

2 thoughts on “Doctors Blame Street Food for Surge in Ramadhaan Illnesses

  1. As salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh. Subhaanallaah, this is the reason why I stopped eating from a lil Falaafil restaurant in Hayy Jaami’ah despite loving their sandwiches.

    I usually wait outside while my zawj orders our food because the place is small and often times crowded. One night I decided to go in with him because it was relatively empty. I noticed the cook preparing our sandwiches on his hairy, bare arm. I was so disgusted after that. He actually had our sandwiches laid out up and down his arm covered with long hair…eeeewwww! He was also handling money and he never stopped to wash his hands.

    Latex gloves. What are those?

    Hairnets. Hair who?

    Rules and regulations regarding cleanliness. Huh?

    I no longer eat from that establishment, yet I reminisce over those yummy sandwiches. I went to the market and purchased a box of Falaafil mix to make at home. Well, the results were not the same…lol. I’ll keep trying until I get it right In Shaa Allaah. Always say Bismillaah before you eat.

  2. As salaamu ‘alaikum. Here’s something from the Khaleej Times on staying healthy……

    Docs urge precautions against seasonal ailments
    By our staff reporters
    29 September 2007

    Residents need to take precautions to protect themselves against seasonal ailments brought in by change in weather and eating habits during the holy month of Ramadan, say doctors.

    Upper respiratory infection, which is common during this time of the year as weather changes, has already affected many residents, according to experts.

    Many children and adults have already started to complain of common cold, sore throats, coughing and sneezing, they say.

    “Respiratory infections start with a sore throat and if you lack sleep and are stressed out, it becomes worse as these conditions affect the immunity levels,” says a Sharjah-based doctor, who did not want to be named. Doctors say the immunity system weakens in the initial days of fasting during Ramadan, resulting in the spread of infectious diseases.

    Sore throat
    “People don’t take care about the foodstuff they eat during Iftar as they tend to consume cold and oily food which is a major cause of the ‘sore throat syndrome’ being experienced by many people. People also tend to break their fast with artificially sweetened juices or ‘sherbets’ which cause irritation in the throat, leading to cough and fever,” explained the doctor.

    Another general practitioner Dr M Salman pointed out that low intake of water and fluids during the Ramadan could contribute to forming of stones in the kidneys and urinary infections. “Kidney stones and urinary infections may form because of low liquid intake. Those who fast should drink more water whenever they can after breaking their fast,” he said. “Avoiding cold drinks and oily food items can help a lot in preventing cold and respiratory infections. Cold foodstuff could flare up viral infection,” said Dr Salman.

    Oral hygiene, he said, is very important in preventing infection. “Sharing of plates, cutlery and glasses should be avoided during sickeness so as to minimise the spread of infection,” he explained.

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