Thursday, April 9, 2009

Geylang Serai food poisoning - the poor rats...

Well .... typically as in other kinds of hysteria, some irrationality creeps into the picture. Here my poor relatives (not that close, by the way - they are from the Muroidea family while us moles are from the Talpidae family) have become the scapegoats for everything tragic and negligent about the food poisoning. *sigh*

Fact is - rats usually carry disease related to salmonella and leptospirosis. They are just a convenient visible icon of a dirty environment. Killing rats without cleaning the environment will not save us. Cleaning the environment will make sure rats do not flourish. So this hysterical mass killing of rats is nothing more than a massive public relation exercise to demonstrate how much effort is going into cleaning the environment. Poor rats. Where is the SPCA when you need them?

Fact is the causative organism - Vibrio parahaemolyticus is a rather fragile thing that lives best in salty water. Hence it is carried in raw shellfish/seafood. It tends to be rather heat sensitive so a little bit of cooking (even just high warming above about 60C) will pretty much kill it. It does however produce a toxin that is more heat resistant.

This spate of food poison is caused by ingestion of lots of bacteria and toxin. Those who succumbed almost immediately after consumption of the rojak, suffered effects due to the toxin. Those who developed fever and other delayed symptoms of bacterial infection, clearly ingested lots of live bacteria.

How the contamination of food occured here remains a mystery. Sure...there must have been contamination of the rojak gravy by a raw seafood source. But how? The only seafood in Indian rojak are the deep fried prawn fritters. Not a likely source of poisoning I think.

The poor Pa'chik must be going through hell at the moment. What I fear is that he, like the rats, will become the scapegoat for this whole episode. This will create another unnecessary tragedy.

It now behoves the MOH and NEA to do a serious evaluation of their procedures and work quality. How much of this was due to systemic problems that created an environment where something like this was just waiting to happen. It is just far too easy and convenient to blame the last person holding the parcel when the bomb goes off.

What also puzzles me also is how come our management of food safety straddles 2 ministries? Do these ministries talk to each other or not? In the management of this mass food poisoning, how does reporting occur? Do people know how to report? And to which agency? Does the MOH tell the NEA when it receives reports? How quickly does this occur?

The examination of the response times between first symptoms and notification, and then notification and response is an extremely important indicator of how effective the 2 ministries have been. This is not a trivial matter to be swept under the carpet, but an vitally important consideration if we want to make sure of our national preparedness against biological or chemical terrorism.


auntielucia said...

Giga, I think something not quite right with the food poisoning stories -- initially those sick interviewed on TV blamed it on the gravy. Then some woman called Helen from the hospitals said it was raw seafood. Now they say it's because of the meesiam stall next door. But cheap hawker stall meesiam doesn't add seafood, so how likely is the meesiam stall to have seafood in its fridge?

I suspect from the start that someone might have accidentally added some stuff meant for other things to the gravy but now don't dare admit.

People who slop on a lot of gravy, esp spicy gravy won't be able to tell whether it's off or have other stuff in it, provided the other stuff isn't overpowering in taste or smell. Just my theory?

As for rats and SPCA: aiyoh they aren't pets, mah, but pests. U don't get SPCA jumping up n down when crows are culled by the dozens!

gigamole said...

heh...I was only joking about the rats!

But yah, something not quite right about the story. Especially suspicious now that another food poisoning in Geylang...this time at steamboat restaurant.

But we have to leave it to our investigators to do their job. I hope they will look at bit deeper than just going after the rats and the poor pa'chik.