If the parts of a restaurant that you can scrutinise turns your stomach, what about the places you cannot see, and which are only accessible to staff; like the kitchen, the storeroom and the backroom, where most of the food is prepared?
A good indicator to the standards of hygiene, practised in the restaurant is given by a peep into the toilets. If the customer toilets are dirty, with leaky taps, flooded floors, inadequate toilet paper, no soap or paper towels to dry one’s hands, just imagine what the kitchens are like, where only members of staff are allowed.
Last week, a viral video clip, which allegedly showed workers at Raj’s Banana Leaf Restaurant, washing dishes in a puddle of murky water, behind the shop, shocked Malaysians. The restaurant has been ordered to close immediately, pending investigation. Its workers have been sent on a food handling course. They have also been given anti-typhoid jabs.
If not for an observant customer, or passer-by, would any of us have been any the wiser? The publicity generated prompted other restaurants to pull their socks up and ensure they comply with all the food bye-laws, although some have already been shut-down, by the enforcement officers.
Dirty restaurants is not a new phenomenon
It may sound idiotic, but these types of filthy work restaurants and hawker stalls, is not a new phenomenon.
There have been previous instances, which are just as bad, or worse. Perishables, like vegetables are stored and washed on the floor, adjacent to the toilets.
Workers use a mop to clean the floors, and then wipe the table-tops with the same mop. The dirty rag, which the waiter uses to wipe spills off the floor, or dirty work surfaces, which have been used for raw meat, is then used to clean the tables.
In some restaurants and clubs, even established ones, rats can be seen scurrying up the curtains, or peeping from behind the legs of tables.
In some places, food is prepared in the morning, and left in open containers, on show for customers. Diners who see a fly hovering over food, may find on closer scrutiny, that the fly has laid eggs – tiny clusters of pearly white lozenges, almost invisible to the naked eye.
Very few of us request fresh cutlery, if the utensils we were given are encrusted with bits of hardened food. When we find lipstick stains on the rim of a glass, many of us simply turn it around, so that our lips don’t touch the lip-stick marks.
How many of us bother to lodge a complaint, either with the restaurant or the authorities, or both?
So, do Malaysians really care about dirty restaurants, or are they more interested in the taste of the food? We complain about dirty restaurants, but some of us continue to patronise these places. Perhaps, Malaysians don’t care about hygiene, as long as they can eat the food they are used to.
Four things are needed
There are many things that could be improved, but four things are needed before this can happen.
Customers need to be prepared to complain, both to the management and to the authorities, if they see something, which they know is wrong or unhygienic. It is only when they demand high standards that restaurant owners will perform.
There have been complaints that enforcement officers only appear when a new restaurant opens. The establishment then finds that the authorities will not make another appearance. This means that unscrupulous restaurant owners take advantage of the situation and let things slide.
Workers need to be vigilante. and demand that their employers abide by the laws, including training and encouraging safe working practises. This may not be possible, in today’s employment climate, where it is difficult to find reliable workers, and many are illegal, who lack training. They may not know the law, so are unable to report transgressions on their employers.
Businessmen who want to run a successful restaurant should make provision for all the facilities, like a dishwashing areas. Raj Banana Leaf restaurant, failed to provide this.
The restaurant owners react badly and aggressively if you complain about bad hygiene practices. So people keep quiet and walk away. What the authorities can do is to wield the stick when complaints are made and proof given. When applied consistently and fairly, people will in time appreciate the importance being hygienic and proactive. Don’t hide under the table when it comes to good hygiene