Strict enforcement of laws needed to prevent food poisoning


The Consumers Association of Penang calls on the Ministry of Health to strictly enforce the Food Hygiene Regulations 2009. This is in view of the spate of food poisoning cases that has been occurring in the country.

 The latest incident occurred on 24 March 2015 where the Tourism Minister, three state Exco members and 30 senior tourism officials from ASEAN countries suffered severe food poisoning after a seafood meal at a fishing village, in Umbai Malacca. Laboratory tests on the food samples showed that the food served on that day was contaminated with E. Coli bacteria, indicating faecal contamination.

Food poisoning from harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances is responsible for more than 200 diseases, and is linked to the deaths of some 2 million people annually, mostly children.

In the US alone 48 million food poisoning cases occur annually resulting in about 3,000 deaths per year.

Malaysia has not been spared from fatalities caused by unsafe food.

One of the most notorious case was reported in October 1988, where a series of food poisoning occurred in the State of Perak. Most of the victims were children. Ultimately 13 children between the ages of 2.5 and 11 years died. Investigations showed that the probable source of the poison was Loh See Fun, a noodles in the shape of a rat’s tail.

All the deceased ate the noodles from one supplier. Examination of the organs in 10 cases showed a high concentration of aflatoxin in tissues of the deceased. High levels of boric acid were excreted from most of the victims. Examination of the liver in these cases showed necrotic changes found in aflatoxin poisoning. Further investigation pointed to the fact that there was a common toxin or toxins responsible for the deaths. These were thought to be a combination of boric acid and aflatoxin.

In 2013 ,3 people died and 65 others warded due to food poisoning after they had consumed food served at a wedding in Kedah.

In 2014, more than 150 students at a boarding school in Kuala Nerang, Kedah were sickened with a food borne illness caused by salmonella bacteria.

According to the Ministry of Health a total of 5,265 cases of food poisoning in the country were caused by food prepared at school or hostel canteens and the number made up 43 % of the12,122 total food poisoning cases reported nationwide in 2014 .

Food poisoning cases involving school and hostel canteens nationwide had been on the rise. They rose from 3,822 (2010), 3,959 (2011), 4,305 (2012) and 5,017(2013) Food poisoning is often associated with unhygienic food handling.

The number of cases of food poisoning reported in Malaysia over the past few years (averaging around 8,000 a year) could only be the tip of the iceberg as many cases of food poisoning can go unreported.

Changes in food production, distribution and consumption; changes to the environment; new and emerging pathogens; and antimicrobial resistance all pose challenges to food safety systems.

Food safety is a major issue that must be taken seriously by the government and definitely, no compromise should be allowed.

As consumers, all we hope is to buy and eat with a peace of mind. It does not rely only on the conscience of food manufacturers and traders, but also the government’s efforts in strengthening regulations and supervision on food products.

In particular, the departments responsible for food hygiene and safety must perform their tasks well. They should strictly enforce the Food Act 1983 and Food Hygiene Regulations 2009.

As today is World Health Day and the campaign for this year is on unsafe food, CAP calls on the Ministry of Health to conduct regular checks nationwide on food outlets and eateries, including school canteens, canteens in factories, eateries, food caterers and food stalls to ensure that the food served are fit for consumption.

Press Statement, 7 April 2015