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Wednesday, 23 December 2015

Is Asian Street Food Safe, to Eat?

How many times have we heard of someone who has suffered from variously named illnesses, such as Bali Belly, Bangkok Belly, Thailand Tummy, Delhi Belly, or whatever? I know I have been on the receiving end, and it's not funny! But, is it just the food? Is it the cleanliness of the food stall? Or, is there some other culprit?

One of the most stupidly ignorant things I have ever heard is that Asian people are so used to their foods, and the way they are prepared, that they do not get sick. What a load of rubbish! Asian people do get sick from much the same causes / reasons, as Westerners. In fact, they die, too, from lack of decent Medical Services.

I have not travelled all over Asia, nor have I eaten at all street stalls, but when I did, I was extremely selective - and I never ate from a stall which I did not watch for at least 15 minutes, to see their 'hygiene' techniques, and from where, and how, their ingredients were sourced, and how they prepared the food, and even then, it was nearly impossible to protect myself.

Most times, if food contains 'bugs' which will make you sick, or are no good for your body, your own digestion system will, generally, reject them. In other words, your stomach will select reverse gear, and you'll vomit. However, it's the sly little pathogens, which can trick your system, and get through the security net, giving you the belly from hell that you do not want - or worse!

Most of those pathogens, such as Cyclospora cayetanensis, E-coli, Trichinella spiralis or Campylobacter jejuni, vary in their causes, potency, and in their effects on you.

For instance, Cyclospora cayetanensis causes gastrointestinal upsets, and is transmitted through food, or water, which has been contaminated by human faeces. Human Faeces? (****!) I had a friend who got really crook from a 'tummy bug'. It prompted me to think!

E-coli lives in the intestines of cattle, sheep, pigs, and poultry. It can get into the water system through animal faeces and can infect humans through improperly cooked and handled meat. Symptoms go from a mild flu-like ailment all the way up to kidney failure, and even death. How many times do you see the farm cattle, such as the buffaloes, wallowing nearby? Does the water come from the same source? Mmmm?

One of the worse pathogens, is Trichinella spiralis which is a worm that is transferred to humans from infected Pork. People who become infected start out with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and watery stools. Then, the face very often becomes puffy and swollen, especially around the eyes, and headache and even delirium occur. Five percent of those infected die. Survivors may take six months to re-cover and be left with permanent heart or eye damage. Was the pig killed in a registered abattoir, or 'on the farm'?

Newer pathogens are discovered as new techniques are developed. Campylobacter jejuni is now the most common bacterial cause of diarrhoea in industrialized countries. Caused by contaminated raw foods it is the most common pathogen in poultry. It brings on fever, headache, muscle pain, diarrhoea, and nausea; in extreme cases it leads to arthritis, blood poisoning, meningitis, inflammation of the heart and other organs, and paralysis.

So, with all those 'bugs' able to get you, and the various ways they are transported to you, is it any wonder that some people get sick - and after they have arrived back in their home country?

I got very sick, back in 2001, from eating watermelon. It was suggested that a common practice of some farmers, was to use a large 50 mls syringe to inject additional water into melons, to increase their weight, and therefore, the prices they got at the market. Unfortunately, for me, and I suppose many others, the water used, was not from a healthy source. I spent one week in Thailand's Hat Yai hospital, then, when they gave up and could not help me any further, I flew home to Australia, to seek medical attention, and recover. I was OK, about a week later.

Leafy vegetables are washed, but what is the water like? Where does it come from? I bet there are not many roadside stalls using bottled water to rinse-off food. Has the stall-keeper washed his/her hands properly after ablutions? Was the meat kept chilled? Was the cutting-board cleaned properly after cutting-up the raw chicken, when they prepared your salad?

I am currently watching a program series on TV, about Asian Food, presented by English Chef, and Writer, Rick Stein. He is travelling through Asia - places like Cambodia, Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia, and apart from the fact that he is an extremely well-known chef, and should know better, he really is an enigma. I believe he has been to Thailand many, many times, yet, not only can't he say 'Thank you', or 'delicious', in Thai, he eats 'willy-nilly' from food markets, and stalls. I expect that one day, we'll read about him in the papers.

In summary, roadside stalls, and street-vendors are generally, OK. Look at them. Check them out. Ten extra minutes won't hurt. Don't you be the same as many people. Don't spoil your holiday with a trip to the hospital and a week, or more, in bed - wishing you were dead! It will happen. It's just a question of when.

The roadside stalls may well serve great food, and be well worth the experience, as I found out on many occasions, but then again, so is Russian Roulette, I suppose, - if you win!


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