Thursday, February 2, 2012

Hygiene levels? Do they exist?

On Monday, I was feeling a bit queasy thru the morning. So much so, that I ducked out of my swim at the `hallowed’ Bombay Gymkhana. By afternoon I was on the ropes, and, by late evening, I was technically knocked out. Upset stomach. Yes, I can see in my mind’s eye, all you readers rubbing your hands together in glee and thinking – with all that eating and drinking Stonethrower has had this coming for a long time!! Yes indeed, I have been lucky for so long.

It was not pleasant. A severe headache, bitter taste in my mouth, pain in my stomach, shivering and, yes, lots of running to the bathroom – ‘loose motions’ as we so love to describe this phenomenon. The usual treatment, nil by mouth, drink lots of water and hope to be better soon. This was coupled with lots of thought and analysis on what food could have caused this? Whether it was simply over indulgence or was it food poisoning? I had no answers. The next morning, I was much better.

Despite feeling better, I thought it would be wise to visit the doctor, as he would be able to determine whether I had some sort of stomach infection and would prescribe a course of antibiotics to get rid of it. The good doctor probed my stomach and pressed his stethoscope hard into my stomach. Doctors would be naked without stethoscopes, just as guards would be naked without those infernal metal detectors. The doctor said that since the symptoms had receded all I needed was a Probiotic which would set me right.

We sat at his desk while he wrote out the prescription for the Probiotic. He also went on to give me advice on what I should not eat for the next few days. I have scanned his note so that you do not doubt me. As his handwriting is quite terrible I reproduce his note:


Milk / Dairy products
Oily spicy food
Raw salads / uncooked foods
Green chutneys
Outside food / unboiled water

I had heard this before, but I could not believe that the doctor was actually telling me this. I hope that you dear readers realise that I live in Mumbai, India’s most developed city. I live in one of Mumbai’s most privileged areas. I am easily categorised as an HNI. What does the list of foods to avoid look like to you? Oily spicy food I can understand. Raw salads could be hard to digest, but my impression is that the Doctor said to avoid them on account of them being raw, hence unclean. My question is are the rest of the instructions not something that you would tell someone on a visit to deep Africa or the jungles of South America. Am I correct?  It’s 2011 and in Mumbai we still have be cautious of such things. Is this the level of hygiene we have here? Is this the level of food handlers [whether at restaurants or domestic servants] and restaurants owners that we have in Mumbai where you cannot be guaranteed basic cleanliness in washing, storing and preparing food?  Would this list not strike you as being very sensible if you too had an upset stomach? Unfortunately yes, the sad truth is that hygiene, as in basic washing of produce, the subsequent storage in a refrigerator, maintaining of a cold chain is all of no relevance to your food handler. How many times do you buy meat from a butcher [if you are lucky a butcher turns up at your door with mutton] or fish from the market and find that the meat and fish has never ever seen the inside of a fridge till you buy it? India is a hot country, food spoils quickly but do we care? Do our restaurants have adequate fridge space to store all the meat and fish they buy?

Today with restaurant prices being what they are, in many instances prices are comparable with what you get abroad. Take a random example, TGIF, or Hard Rock Cafe or Manchester United Cafe. Are you not paying a lot of money for the food there? Would you unhesitatingly order a salad, eat the green chutney or drink the `tap’ water? In the USA, Europe or even Singapore I would and I am sure you would. In India not me and I am sure not you. If your answer is no as I am sure it would be, then what exactly is it that you are paying for? Is hygiene not part of the cost of food?

Honestly, I shudder to think. 

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