Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Collateral Damage

Typhoon Basyang (aka Conson) ripped through the Philippines and hammered Metro-Manila last week. The storm left the city without electricity for an extended period and in some areas of Luzon for several days.  As a result, perishable foods that lost electric powered refrigeration and/ or freezing within this period became unsafe for consumption.

Food spoilage  is a problem that accompanies any long term brownout. Personally, for the most part my wife and I can get by when the lights go out. However, our main concern under such circumstances is possibly contracting a food-borne illness because our refrigerator isn't running.   In many instances of course it's easy to detect that a particular food product has gone bad just by smell, taste, sight, or touch. With other items it's not that easy.  They may appear to be o.k. but may be harboring dangerous bacteria.  (So I wonder just how many people are felled as a result of ingesting spoiled food in the aftermath of natural disasters.)

Here in Eastwood City, it took almost 24 hours for electricity to be restored. Fortunately, our refrigerator was up to the job even without power such that our frozen foods stayed hard and the refrigerated foods remained reasonably cold.

However, during the power outage I noticed that for some nearby fast-food restaurants without alternate sources of power, it was business as usual. Their interiors weren't lit or air conditioned, and the cash registers weren't working, ( sales were calculated manually); so I assume  their food preparation and refrigeration units also weren't functioning  (Perhaps the food was left over from the day before).  In fact, I observed that one of these businesses, a convenience store, had food out at room temperature (actually in the 80's indoors due to warm weather) all day on the display rack of a non-functioning oven warmer.  That is just the right condition for bacteria to multiply and thrive in.

But all this carelessness isn't surprising. Unsafe food handling practices are common in the Philippines.  There are laws on the books against such negligence, but more often than not, due to corruption and inefficiency, they are unenforced.

However, it's not rocket science to understand that meals served by restaurants under such circumstances can lead to food poisoning. Yet during the blackout customers were still patronizing these establishments. These people appeared to be middle class and therefore presumably educated enough to know that they were flirting with danger.  But such apathy is part of the Philippine culture of  bahala na  which is roughly translated as fatalism.

For those who want to play it safe, IMO it's probably best to stay away from such eateries for at least a few days after a long-term power outrage while they foist off their questionable inventory on an  indifferent public.  On the other hand dining out in the midst of a power outage is probably safer in malls that have backup generators powering their businesses including restaurants along with the latter's' food storage equipment.

As careful as I try to be in these matters, I have not always been able to dodge the bullet.  I have contracted amoebic dysentery twice from contaminated  food or beverages.  However,  it could only occur more frequently if I were to let my guard down.  Risk in dining out or even in food preparation at home can't be totally avoided even under the best of conditions.  But by exercising common sense under obviously hazardous conditions,  it can at least be minimized.


Kano said...

It was also very serious in Las Pinas. The power was also out for about 24 hours. We were also thinking of the food in the fridge, but as you, we did not see a problem with the meat and veggies, as the stuff in the freezer was still in some ways frozen. We just left everything as it was in the fridge, so it kept it cool naturally for an extended period of time.

We did had some problem lighting up our place, as we did not have any batteries left in our flashlights, so we had to be content with a few candles, and as it was night, we went to bed soon after. It was then that it really got worse. The typhoon came down raving mad.

We also did not get our cable TV back an extra day later, but my Internet connection was no problem. PLDT, way to go!

Secular Guy said...

Hi Kano,

I'm glad that your food also "made it through the rain".

As for batteries, yeah, it's easy to get caught short. So I bought an emergency light. It works by plugging it into an outlet while the power is up. Then when there's a blackout, it automatically switches on. The brand is Firefly and it has two settings, an incandescent flashlight-like beam and a fluorescent lamp-type setting. Best of all it's portable.

Of course when the power is restored, you just plug it back in until the next outage.

Our cable was restored about the same time as the electricity, but given the lousy selection that Destiny offers, that was a minor consideration.

Kano said...

Actually, Globe Distiny is fairly good, versus the other competitor. Can't remember the their company name now. One thing though with Destiny, they change their channels often to other channel numbers, so you get confused a lot, especially for older people who can't remember things as good as young people.

Also, they do also take away good channels without notice, like Euro Sports. At one point, we paid P450/m for cable because we only had 3 sports channels, but when Star Sports came, we started paying P500/m. Now that they took away the one sports channel, which we end up again 3 sports channels, we still pay P500/m. But overall, it's a good cable company.

What we did not see is coverage of the Tour de France and the World Cup Soccer in South Africa from Globe Destiny.

I do like the many American movie channels they have and the 2 Japanese channels, that gives me a sence of "peace" when I watch some of their shows, as opposed to what you see on the Filipino channels with much fighting and screeming.

Secular Guy said...


You make some good points. I especially agree about the changes that Destiny makes, although admittedly there was plenty of notice about the latest big one: The replacement of the Sci-Fi Channel with Universal. Mt wife was especially bummed over losing some of her favorite shows.

Kano said...

I will check this channel. Yes, it's a bummer. People lose some of their favored shows.

Secular Guy said...

Here's the link to the schedule for Universal: http://www.universalchannel.asia/