Thursday, November 13, 2014

Food Safety Who?

So apparently the Ministry of Health in Lebanon has issued a list of restaurants that have failed the food safety inspection on certain items. And apparently, people are angry at the MoH. Because apparently, one of the most popular chain of restaurants of the country has failed the inspection because they were serving chicken that was apparently of bad quality or like not up to the required standards. Ok, shut up Apparently kid. 

Oh people of Lebanon, you contradict yourself so much! You want regulation yet if the results don't suit you, you reject them. But hey, I don't really blame you! It's not like we're giving you real alternatives. Actually, the government has you all figured out! You are the type of people who don't act; you react. You make a fuss but you forget so quickly. Again, I can't blame you. You are consumed by time, and you look for immediate satisfaction. Some would say that that's due to political insecurity, and you would agree. I mean, it's the perfect excuse to moralize your materialism. Well anyway, I'm not here to discuss this, so let's skip this part. 

So here's how things happen:

  1. People get food poisoned
  2. Media create buzz by "faking" reports about cats and mice in supermarkets' warehouses
  3. People react and ask for regulations
  4. Ministry of Health corruptly and randomly inspects food samples from restaurants to shut the people up
  5. People react because they dislike the results and they are emotionally attached to restaurants 
  6. Ministry of Health ignores the people and know it will pass
  7. People have nothing to react to, they forget the matter

So who's really to blame here? The restaurants who serve bad food? The government for putting no regulations? The consumer for being too easygoing? I'd honestly blame all three parties, but I'd also add another party to the list: farmers and producers. 

For a matter of practicality and lack of time, I will take the example of chicken. It happens that chicken is the ailment the most prone to diseases. It also happens to be the aliment that failed the popular restaurant mentioned on the inspection. Great. 

So let's go back to the beginning of the journey, to when the chick got out of the egg. Here again, we are choosing that as a point of start, or else we would end up arguing whether the egg or the chicken came first. Let's list the steps in which the chick passes by until it gets to our plate and which should be given much more attention if we want safe food:

  1. Environment in which they grow [in Lebanon: chicks are stacked in dark overcrowded cages]
  2. Feeding [in Lebanon: growth hormones, fish meal (powder made of organs and bones from processed fish. Now you understand "zankha"), chicken meal (powder made of chicken flesh, skin, and bones. Cannibalism much?), meat meal (you got the point, #MadCow101), and if we're lucky soybean (full of estrogen)…]
  3. Environment as adult chicken cultivated for its meat [in Lebanon: well let's say that american regulations say no more than 10 chicken per cage, which is already crazy, so imagine here… Farmers want to fit more chicken in less space.. Chicken produce methane (poo) which not only stinks but also increases temperatures leading chicken to hyperventilate (chicken don't have sweat glands so they start breathing fast to reduce their body heat) which thus leads to stress and hardening of the meat. The cages are not cleaned often enough and thus the cages' floors are humid, leading to several diseases]
  4. Transportation to slaughterhouse [in Lebanon: remember the cages in which more than 10 adult chicken are stacked? Well these cages are then stacked on three levels in transportation trucks. No truck shield from the sun, no AC whatsoever. The temperature in unbearable. And let's not forget the bad roads and lack of infrastructure]
  5. Arrival to slaughterhouse [in Lebanon: 30% of the chicken are dead or almost dead from the road, the rest is over-agitated. In "modern" slaughterhouses, chicken are given a mini electroshock to calm down and stop moving so that slaughter is easier]
  6. Slaughter [in Lebanon: usually manual. I know only one slaughterhouse/factory that uses the "modern" technique of hanging the chicken by their necks and mechanically slaughtering them, with records of the Qur'an playing in the background, and they call it Halal]
  7. BONUS: Emergency slaughter [Only in Lebanon: The almost dead or not moving chicken are sent to emergency slaughter a.k.a. kill them before they totally die. Yup, one third of the chicken you eat is "almost" dead before slaughter…]
  8. Packing [in Lebanon: not used a lot. We rarely see any label. You don't need information, stay ignorant and foolish.. Right?]
  9. Cold storage at the retailer [in Lebanon: fi kahraba?]
  10. Cold storage at restaurants [in Lebanon: chou ya3né kahraba?]
  11. Handling [in Lebanon: ok, he's wearing gloves… but did he change them after going to the bathroom?]
  12. Cooking [Chicken should ALWAYS be well done.. Or else, hello salmonella and co.]
  13. Re-heating [in Lebanon: not so commun.. I hope!]
Okay we're done. 

See, only 4 stages out of 13 are from restaurants. It's just the tip of the iceberg. Food safety is a muuuch bigger issue, and regulations should be done on all 13 stages. Standards should be set. They should be shared with farmers, producers, retailers, restaurants, and consumers so that everyone is on the same page. 

Yes, I am anti-regulation. But consumers in Lebanon are not aware of anything. They only care today, but tomorrow they'll probably move on. Only good regulation can get us on the right track. But do we really deserve it? Allow me to have a doubt.


  1. Great Job Nou ... I really like the explanation you did. However, this takes me back to the point I was trying to tell people from yesterday. People actually graduate in huge numbers from food science majors, supply chain experts, and others but actually end up working in marketing or sales or you name it rather in working where they needed. (ironically due to lack of job opportunities) problem in the system much ?

  2. - apparently this is the best article I read on the matter... (I read 5 or 6 maybe)
    - the egg, apparently, came before the chicken - from a bird that was not a chicken -