Moncada: In safe hands

MY MOTHER would have not been reminded that the Kadiwa On Wheels was scheduled in our barangay that day if I did not go home straight from the basketball court where I covered Kadiwa first-hand for a requirement in my master's education and told her of my whereabouts.

Her eyes grew big in surprise as she tapped the table where the large food stall of our karenderya is placed exclaiming "Aguy! Karun man diay to!" I put my arm up and looked at my watch to check how many minutes more before the mobile market closes. There was exactly thirty minutes left and so in haste she asked our two house helpers to hurry their way to the basketball court where more than twenty sellers of agricultural and poultry, and of processed foods, have their products on display.

While our house helpers were gone, I travelled back to the humble beginnings of our karenderya. The year was 1998. My father was still around at that time. Before I left for the required retreat for elementary graduating students, I did the math. By the day that our class goes back home from the retreat is the day that mother opens her store. Although the store was small but mother was enthused. The space was perhaps just two-arm length in width and four in depth. It was in one corner, on the first floor, of my grandmother's two-storey house.

The number of viands she sold was not more than five or perhaps there were just five, to be exact. But now, twenty-two years after, a lot has changed.

The karenderya has moved places twice but just within the corners of our house. In between the change of places, on 2003, our house was caught in a fire. But in the aftermath, the karenderya grew much bigger in space. In 2011, father passed on. But mother has managed to continue serving many customers even without the love of her life. And now, oftentimes, it feels like we are feeding the whole barangay. The number of viands has increased as well. There are more than ten, not counting those that are usually placed inside the food stall. But if there is one thing that has not changed is my mother's commitment to food safety.

Our house helpers were back from Kadiwa and had with them upo, alugbati, talong, five fingers, patola, a tray of chicken eggs, among others. But normally, she and our house helpers would buy vegetables, along with meat, more than what they bought that Kadiwa day.

Inside their eco-friendly shopping bags, the items they buy are packed separately. When they arrive home, they unload the items and place them on a clean table. They rinse the fresh vegetables. After, they wash their hands with soap and warm water. The knives and the cutting boards are sanitized. Different sets are used for the vegetables and for the meat. Wearing their hair nets and aprons, they begin slicing and cutting. After everything that needs to be sliced and cut are done, they wash their hands again. The cutting boards and knives that were used are once again washed as well with hot and soapy water.

The raw meat, the poultry, the fish are kept away from other food. Other perishables are wrapped securely. This is to avoid cross-contamination. The chicken and the pork that has to be marinated is placed in a separate covered dish and placed inside our refrigerator. The rule is that all the perishables have to be refrigerated within two hours.

Their daily grind begins early every day. It is still dark when they start cleaning and sanitizing the utensils. It is a routine that they never miss doing before they start cooking. They rinse the vegetables they have chopped the previous day. In cooking the raw meats, the temperature is somewhere around 145oF minimum. The cooked food is never placed on the same plate that was used to hold the raw food.

These are basically the food safety protocols that every business operator like my mother ought to comply. Every single day. This is to assure the consumers that the food they eat are safe -- free from "food-borne and water-borne illnesses and unsanitary, unwholesome, misbranded or adulterated foods" as stated in the Republic Act 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013. In addition, this law also concerns truthful presentation of the food in its branding and advertising.

Human development takes place when food is safe. Children are able to learn well and adults are able to work when food is safe. People are protected from diseases such as diarrhea when food is safe. In the Philippines, diarrhea is a common disease. In fact, two years ago, it was reported that over 17,000 people had acute bloody diarrhea.

Food can be contaminated from its production to its consumption that is why food safety is the responsibility of everyone involved in the food chain -- from the farmers to the food business operators and to key government agencies such as the Department of Agriculture, of Health, and of Interior and Local Government. The local government units are responsible for the activities in slaughterhouses, fish ports, markets, school canteens, water refilling stations, and karenderyas that are found in their area. In fact, there is actually a celebration of World Food Safety on June 7 where one of the emphases is on a concerted effort to mitigate food safety risks. This year, when the world is confronted with the corona disease, is the only second time that this event is observed.

In the afternoon of June 7, mother and the house helpers, for sure, will go to the market to buy vegetables, meat, among others in preparation for the next day's business. She will continue what she has built through the years -- an empire of loyal customers who frown if the karenderya is unexpectedly close on weekdays. She will continue to build good relationship with her customers, who start coming as early as seven in the morning until as late as two in the afternoon, by assuring them that the hands that feed them are safe.

In the morning, the karenderya is a karenderya; and in the evening, it transforms into my study place. Though the karenderya is just beside the street where it can be noisy at times because of the loud sound system of trisikads that pass by, I still find it a haven where I do most of my work in the evening. I look at the large food stall, the red tables, and everything that make up our karenderya and cannot help but be grateful because if it is not because of my mother's safe hands that toiled tirelessly to feed many, I would have not completed elementary until college education.


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