Monday, May 14, 2012

When cleanliness of tableware matters most

A TOURIST, who shared our table at a packed restaurant recently, asked my friend Sham why he was eating using his hands instead of using a fork and spoon. Sham replied that it has been his habit.

Unless he was at a formal function or when situations did not allow him to do so, like partaking in a Japanese dinner where chopsticks are used, he said, he would rather eat with his fingers.

"I feel more comfortable using my fingers," Sham said.

"Food tastes better when you eat with your fingers. If you are eating fish, you can also feel for the tiny bones, which you otherwise could miss if you used fork and spoon."

I agree with Sham. Sometimes you can trust your fingers better than the fork and spoons provided by the eateries. People who eat with their fingers are in control of their hygiene provided they always wash their hands properly.

You can't say for sure the forks and spoons at eateries are clean these days. I have seen my fair share of stained ones, both at the stalls and at the 24-hour restaurants -- even if some of them are nicely wrapped up in colourful serviettes.

Of course, the stained forks and spoons would have easily escaped notice had I not make a habit to give a closer look.

At the stalls, I have been put off by dirty little baskets that gleaming forks and spoons are kept in.

I have seen too many ants and cockroaches crawling out of these containers which have been left overnight in the open.

These days, I make an effort to clean the forks and spoons with plain water first before using them. I also asked my wife and children to do the same, for you can never tell if the owners of the eating places take the trouble to wash the utensils properly before storing them.

I know some food operators who just leave their forks and spoons on the tables when they close at night.

Who can say that the improperly wiped tables and unseen food scraps left there did not attract rats onto the tables where these utensils are and soiled them with their urine or faeces?

Of course, there is no point in getting too paranoid over cleanliness. You might even say that taking the trouble to wash these may not guarantee full protection. But at least, you would have reduced the odds of getting ill, wouldn't you?

When eating at the Chinese stalls where the chopsticks are not properly kept but left standing in open chopstick holders, another friend often looked for preserved green chillies. She often dipped her chopsticks into the vinegar solution used to preserve the chillies.

Apparently she was discreetly using the vinegar to "sterilise" her chopsticks, especially when the stall did not have tap water for washing them.

A 15-second dip, she said, was enough to kill most germs. So far, she has been free of food poisoning. My only worry is she may get herself into trouble with the stall keepers one of these days.

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