April 19, 2010

Making Me Sick

Food poisoning is a serious issue here, and I fear it's only a matter of time before I get really sick.

Paul and I have gotten ill at least five times in the last six months. Nothing severe, but food poisoning nonetheless. And from curious sources: A strawberry, non-dairy smoothie; packaged, unexpired couscous salad; freshly made hummos from the deli counter (although it may have been in the fridge for about three days after I bought it).

I'm not talking about shellfish -- I think you take a risk with that every time. Nor am I thinking of street food -- I've been to a few dicey places and had no trouble at all. And street food, in fact, has never made me ill.

There is a government campaign going on to try to combat the problem. It's widespread enough that people die from it here. Some children in Dubai ate bad Chinese food a while back and that got people's attention. Especially when, after an investigation, they let the restaurant reopen.

The problem isn't just lack of hygiene, although that's the beginning. It's also the heat. And the distance your food travels. And how it gets to you from wherever you buy it. The sign in the hot food part of the supermarket advises people to eat their food within two hours. On the other hand, if it takes you two hours to get home and it's 90 degrees out, I wouldn't really pay attention to that window.

Some of the problem, too, is culture. Certain cultures like to keep their kitchens a certain way. International cleanliness standards go above and beyond anything most of us do at home. We all know how many really good Chinese restaurants have B food ratings. It's less a concept of being unsanitary than not being familiar with new rules.

After a raid by health inspectors here the other day, a restaurant owner was very put out that he was cited for not having color-coded cutting boards: one for meat and one for veggies. He also didn't understand why he should use a clean rag for, well, cleaning.

Milk has a short shelf life here -- about three days before it expires -- but you can smell that, so you're a little safe there.

It's not as easy as it seems, to avoid getting sick here. Again, there is the heat to contend with. For eight or nine months of the year, temperatures are 90 or above. That means you;ve got to get to your transportation pretty quickly after you leave the grocery store with any chilled items. No waiting for the bus.

The grapes I bought the other day were wrapped in plastic and must have been wet -- the day I went to eat them they were completely moldy along all the stems. Things come from so far away and they use so much extra packaging here, you just have to be really careful.

No matter how careful you might be -- it's all just a crap shoot.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Street food is generally OK, particularly Indian or Thai, because the spice (such as garlic, onion and ginger) has an antibiotic effect. I'm a fan of bacon-wrapped hot dogs available before Rose Bowl events; however, I draw the line at the supermarket cart with an unknown heating element after Staples Center events. C-graded Chinese food locations in the San Gabriel Valley are okay, that's the result of cultural differences versus science per se, particularly in the storage of Peking Duck.

Leah Reiter said...

But Mike, er Anonymous, the stuff cooking on the carts outside Staples -- and the Coliseum -- always smell so good!!

Anonymous said...

Who is this Mike? I am a serious Canadian businessman on holiday in Southern California to watch the Vancouver Canucks versus the Los Angeles Kings.