THERE are many times when I have turned a blind eye to cockroaches crawling up the dining table or even rats scuttering from one corner of the restaurant to the other.
Every time a rat scurries by I squeal, put my feet up and swear never to patronise that particular eatery ever again.
However, I have found myself going back to the same eatery with a family member or friend, who find encounters with rats or cockroaches at restaurants as normal and tolerable occurrences.
I cannot help but wonder why we are so forgiving where dirty eateries are concerned.
One minute we swear against them and the next, we are back there eating the food they dish out.
At the back of our minds, we know how terribly dirty some restaurants can be but we never really see it as a concern because most of us are immune to these unhygienic food handling practices since young.
However, many of us are being reminded through recent incidents that it is not alright for a restaurant to be dirty.
Just last month, an unsanitary incident involving workers at Raj’s Banana Leaf Restaurant in Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur, went viral and angered people.
The video on workers washing dishes in a puddle of murky water on the road sparked an uproar among the public and netizens.
This showed how technology played a role in disseminating vital information with just a click of a button. A short footage went viral in a heartbeat.
I think with more eyes watching out for unhygienic practices at eateries, food operators will be kept on their toes at all times.
Earlier this month, I joined Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) for its routine restaurant inspection to check on whether eateries observed hygiene rules and practices.
Sadly, seven restaurants in the city were shut down within a week for multiple offences, including washing in the back lane, improper food storage, dirty kitchens, rat droppings, cockroaches and broken tiles.
I wonder why most restaurant operators choose to ignore basic hygiene practices and rather face the music when caught by the health department for failure to keep clean.
Do owners of dirty eateries see this as acceptable standards?
Would they patronise other dirty eateries that have filthy kitchens and cockroaches roaming free?
What I witnessed during those inspections was rather disgusting as some eateries had no regard for people’s health.
Memories of dirty restaurants during the enforcement exercise will definitely return to haunt me.
It did not stop there.
When StarMetro launched its Metro Hygiene Campaign, emails started pouring in with readers sharing photos and describing their experiences at dirty eateries.
Something has to be done about this.
Dirty restaurants should not be tolerated any longer for the health and safety of Malaysians.
Yes, action should be taken against those found guilty. Yes, eateries have been forced to shut down temporarily but what is stopping them from going back to their unhygienic ways?
For instance, one eatery which was shut down by MBPJ recently has reopened. It has returned to its old ways.
After receiving an email complaint from a reader, we went to check it out and saw workers washing in the back lane with packets of food lying about on the dirty road.
The kitchen was also wet with water pooled amid broken tiles.
Besides restaurants, the hygiene factor at roadside stalls is another matter for concern.
Do we stop to think where they get their water supply to cook and wash the dishes if they are operating by the roadside?
So how do we put an end to this?
How do we ensure that restaurants and hawkers observe basic food handling rules and are strict about hygiene?
I believe a large part boils down to enforcement.
Local authorities have to be strict and constant in carrying out enforcement.
The fines issued should be higher to deter them from becoming repeat offenders.
The public also has a role to play. Lodge complaints on dirty eateries to the respective local authorities.
Do not turn a blind eye anymore.