As we know, Johor was affected by the worst flood in 100 years in December 2006 and that disaster comes again in January 2007. According to historical of the natural disasters such as flood, food in affected areas may become contaminated and consequently be at risk for outbreaks of food-borne diseases, including diarrhea, dysentery, cholera, hepatitis A, and typhoid fever. Poor sanitation, including lack of safe water and toilet facilities and lack of suitable conditions to prepare food have led to mass outbreaks of food-borne diseases.
The Minister of Malaysia Health were worried about cases, the improper sanitary facilities and contaminated water supply during flood at housing areas or at relief centers would result in contaminated food, as a prevention step, Assistant Environmental Health Officers (AEHO) has assign to made monitoring of food hygiene vital. The objective of this monitoring is to describe food hygiene surveillance activities carried out in flood relief centers and flood affected areas and the result that were carried out was determined.
The food hygiene surveillance activities were carried out by the Assistant Environmental Health Officers (AEHO) in the districts and. Among the surveillance activities carried out are inspection of food preparation areas in relief centers, inspection of food premises in flood affected areas and food sampling. Premise inspections were carried out using a specific inspection format. For food samples inspections, the food samples that were emphasis included ready to eat and raw foods. For ready to eat foods holding samples were also taken. Samples taken were sent to Public Health Laboratory, Johor Bahru for microbiological analysis.
Anti typhoid vaccination for food handlers were also carried out. Apart from that, observations made by the health teams were also taken into account. A total of 3,159 food preparation areas in relief centers were inspected. During the same period, a total of 2,317 food premises in flood affected areas were inspected as soon these premises started operating after the floods. Among the processes that had given highlighting during inspection were holding and serving of food where temperatures control and holding time were vital for food safety.
Along with the areas given emphasis during the inspection were kitchens, stores, food packaging areas, food transportation vehicles and serving areas. Cooking utensils, water sources, hand washing facilities, garbage disposal area, pest control and suitability of building structures for preparation of food were also given a big attention during the inspections. .Base on the inspection that have done by the Assistant Environmental Health Officers (AEHO), the inspections showed that 69 food preparation areas in relief centers and 181 food premises in flood affected areas had unsatisfactory hygiene.
Not only food premises areas are considering in those inspections, apart from that, the hygiene and practices of all food handlers were also monitored. Insanitary food preparation areas in relief centers and food premises were given health education and warnings to maintain hygiene by the Assistant Environmental Health Officers (AEHO). A total of 1,566 holding samples were taken and 425 samples were sent to the laboratory for analysis.
Base on the result, they have gathered out that 46 of the samples analyzed were found to be positive for pathogenic bacteria such as E. coli, staphylococcus aureus and salmonella. The health personnel from the Johor Health Department in various districts carried out an excellent job in ensuring food safety during the floods. There were no outbreaks of food poisoning. However analysis of food samples taken during the floods did show the presence of pathogenic organisms but probably their numbers were not high enough to cause any food poisoning.
When the flood has affected some areas, the contamination from microorganism into food were easily contaminated, that contamination can always occur at all points of the food chain, for instants inadequate washing, handling and cooking of food just before consumption is still a prime cause of food-borne diseases. Many infectious diseases are preventable by observing simple hygienic rules during food preparation whether in family settings or in large food catering facilities.
According to the guidelines provided by the World Health Organization (WHO), there are five keys for safer food in disaster situation such as keeping clean, separating raw and cooked food, cooking thoroughly, keeping food at safe temperatures and lastly using safe water and raw materials. As a rational, the education to all individuals have to concern more to avoid the unwanted condition occurs, for instant when a disaster such as flood occurs, the public would already understand and be prepared to apply their knowledge in hygiene and food safety.
As an example, the hand washing method which involves seven steps needs to be imbibed into all individuals through health education campaigns so that it becomes a common practice amongst all individuals. As a very good solution the promotion and enforcement of food hygiene requirements should be carried out continuously to ensure that every individual understands the need for hygiene and food safety during disaster situation such as flood.