WHY should Larsian barbecue vendors be singled out?
The Cebu City Health Office (CHO) should widen the scope of their “intensified” monitoring to ensure that all food establishments and vendors practice food hygiene and protect public health.
The Cebu Provincial Government, which owns the property where Larsian is located, must review why the measures formulated in 2018 to improve food handling and sanitation in Larsian failed and how enforcement can be improved.
Last Feb. 7, Jerra Mae Librea of SunStar Cebu reported that the CHO found flies, cockroaches and rats at the Larsian Food Park near the Fuente Osmeña Circle. The CHO is checking the health cards of Larsian stall operators. Not having one means confiscation of the outlet’s sanitary permit and closure of the stall for violation of health and sanitation laws.
In November 2018, Larsian stalls reopened after a three-month closure. From July to November 2018, operations were suspended to rehabilitate the facilities, such as the improvement of the toilets and opening of a parking space. Stall owners were involved by the Provincial Government, which manages the food park, in formulating the guidelines and sanctions regarding food handling and general sanitation.
What went wrong? Even as the factors causing the backsliding of Larsian food entrepreneurs should be looked into, the Cebu City Government and the Cebu Provincial Government must be as vigilant in ensuring that proper sanitation is observed by other food vendors.
A review of food hygiene standards shows that there are many violators of proper personal hygiene among street food vendors. Since street food is inextricably part of Cebu culture and a magnet for tourists, stakeholders must share responsibility to prevent food from being a conduit for communicable diseases and becoming a public hazard.
Hair nets, protective masks, and gloves limit or eliminate the transfer of pathogenic micro-organisms in food preparation. Not only are these protective clothing rarely used by food handlers of street food patronized by residents and tourists, other realities increase the risks of food being improperly handled, such as the common practice of the person preparing and serving the dish also receiving the customers’ payment and producing the change.
On the other hand, blame cannot be solely directed at food entrepreneurs. Local governments should share the responsibility for permitting food vendors to operate without access to the supply of uncontaminated, uninterrupted water, for instance.
Handwashing is a requirement for food handlers in varied situations, according to the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department of the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region: “before commencing work; before handling food; after visiting the toilet; after handling raw food; after handling soiled equipment or utensils; after coughing, sneezing, smoking, eating, drinking or blowing nose; after handling animals or waste; after touching their earns, noses, hair, mouths or other parts of their bodies; or after engaging in any activities that may contaminate hands (e.g., handling money, carrying out cleaning duties, etc.).”
Proper garbage disposal and regular collection is another requisite public service to prevent or control the proliferation of pests around food centers and waste receptacles.
Schools, hospitals, malls, public parks, and other places where citizens congregate attract street food vendors. Recognizing the public’s need for affordable, filling food and the regular livelihood provided by street food vending, local governments must step in and provide trainings and seminars on proper food hygiene, in partnership with the private sector.
Public and private sectors must take up the slack in ensuring that Cebu’s food industry excels in all tests, from sanitation to taste and affordability.