There are many factors for parents to consider when buying food and produce at the market.
Apart from nutritional value, one should also pay attention to food safety and quality.
Food safety means ensuring the food is safe from chemical, physical or biological risks, beginning from production until consumption.
This is important as it prevents health hazards linked to unsafe food.
Contaminated food may contain pathogens that can cause foodborne illnesses such as food poisoning, cholera, typhoid, hepatitis A and dysentery.
During the movement control order that began in March 2020, people started to cook at home more often, requiring them to buy more raw ingredients from the market.
Delivery services also increased greatly.
Hence, it is crucial to be mindful about food safety while shopping.
From farm to home
Food safety starts during production in farms and factories, before the produce and products enter the market.
From the legal perspective, Malaysia has the Food Act 1983 and Food Regulations 1985 to regulate food production and trade.
Comprehensive local and international standards, such as ISO 22000 (international food safety standard), MyGAP (Malaysian Good Agricultural Practice), GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice), HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point) and MeSTI (Makanan Selamat Tanggungjawab Industri/Food Safety is Responsibility of the Industry certification scheme), are also implemented to ensure and control food safety and quality during the various stages of production.
Most consumers do not have control over food production, but we can control our purchasing habits at the market.
Here are some tips to ensure you purchase safe food:
Firstly, choose a clean market to do your shopping in.
Do regularly wash your reusable shopping bags.
It is also a good practice to sanitise your shopping cart or basket.
Make sure there are no holes or tears.
Avoid dented, rusted or bloated packaging.
Check if the safety seals are intact.
A product should not be sold or consumed after it has passed its “expiry” or “use by” date, even if it still looks edible.
On the other hand, a product will remain at its best quality until its “best before” date and can still be consumed after that if it has not spoilt.
Ensure that the addresses of the manufacturer and distributor are indicated on the packaging, so that you can trace the origin of the product.
Some products have QR codes to indicate their original sources, as well as points of production and distribution.
Be alert for counterfeit products.
Do your research and check for signs of authenticity on the packaging as informed by the original manufacturers.
This is where a shopping list comes in handy.
For your weekly grocery trips, it would be ideal to pick up non-perishable and dry items first.
Get the refrigerated or frozen items and fresh produce towards the end of your trip.
Place fruits and veggies on top of the cart.
Put frozen foods together to help them keep cool longer.
Keep meat, poultry and seafood in plastic bags/containers to prevent their fluids from leaking onto other items.
Separate them from veggies, fruits and other foods.
Perishable foods should not be out of refrigeration for more than two hours (or one hour in hot weather).
Use a cooler box if you have to go somewhere else after grocery shopping.
On a hot day, put the food in the car instead of the boot.
Food and grocery delivery
Choose restaurants that you are sure have good hygiene and food quality, e.g. restaurants you have frequented before.
It’s better if the restaurant has the BeSS (Bersih, Selamat dan Sihat/Clean, Safe and Healthy) certification.
Ask or check online before ordering.
Good restaurants will attach a ticket to inform when the food was prepared.
Discard food if it was in transit for more than four hours.
Check the food or product packaging for any damage or contamination when receiving the order.
Do not accept food or groceries that look or smell bad upon receipt. Inform the restaurant or shop about this.
Every year, foodborne diseases cause millions to fall ill and many to die, with a majority of victims being children.
These diseases lead to significant disruptions in life, especially to vulnerable groups such as infants, young children, the elderly, and people with chronic disease or compromised immunity.
Hence, it is important to prevent foodborne diseases by practising good hygiene and taking precautionary measures as outlined above.
Dr Yasmin Ooi is a nutritionist. This article is courtesy of the Malaysian Paediatric Association’s Positive Parenting programme in collaboration with expert partners. For further information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. The Star does not give any warranty on accuracy, completeness, functionality, usefulness or other assurances as to the content appearing in this column. The Star disclaims all responsibility for any losses, damage to property or personal injury suffered directly or indirectly from reliance on such information.