IN 2005, 27 school children died in Bohol after eating cassava or kamoteng kahoy contaminated with pesticide.
Seven years later, a 27 year-old man died as 66 people were rushed to the hospital in Iloilo after consuming milk tea products with salmonella bacteria. In the same year, 11 South Korean nationals were also rushed in another case of food poisoning.
More recently, we mourned for Suzaine Dagohoy, a customer who died after drinking odd-flavored Hokkaido-flavored milk tea and William Abrigo, the owner of the teahouse who tasted said milk tea for himself. The two fainted minutes after ingesting the drink and were declared dead hours later.
The Department of Health (DOH) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) have ruled out the possibility of intentional poisoning since the milk tea sample showed negative for containing toxic substances like cyanide, nitrite, nitrate, or arsenic. As of this writing, the cause of death of Dagohoy and Abrigo still remains a mystery.
Their deaths could have been prevented if RA 10611 or the Food Safety Act of 2013, was fully operational.
Signed into law in 2013 but its IRR signed just in February this year, the Food Safety Act aims to maintain a comprehensive farm to fork food safety regulatory framework from the harvest to the manufacture, processing, handling, packaging, distribution, marketing, food preparation to its consumption.
The law provides that food business operators (FBOs) shall allow regular inspection of their businesses. FBOs also have to undergo training on the codes of good practice and technologies to ensure food safety. Training is targeted to SMEs, which are usually family-owned and –operated. Often, they lack the needed technical experts such as food technologists, microbiologists and chemists.
Aside from regular inspection, FBOs should always subject their products to food testing by accredited laboratories.
Operators who adulterate (e.g. produce food with poisonous, deleterious or hazardous ingredients) and violate rules and regulations of the RA 10611 will be fined and jailed.
In the case of the Dagohoy and Abrigo deaths, the culpable may be fined PhP 300,000 to PhP 500,000, imprisoned for six months to one year and penalized with permanent revocation of their permit to operate a food business.
The law also mandates that the LGU shall be responsible for food safety in food businesses even for street food sale and ambulant vending.
The Food Safety Act aims to assure consumers that the food they buy from FBOs are safe and that if anything goes wrong, FBOs are responsible.
Hopefully, in the next few months, government will realize the importance of food safety and quickly put the mechanisms in place to fully implement RA 10611.
Vital Signs Issue 75 Vol. 4, May 1-31 2015