Remove fried rice from cooked food stalls' menus

The report on food safety practices certainly serves as a useful reminder (Some takeaways on ensuring food is safe to eat; May 12).

However, it does not mention Bacillus cereus, the culprit notorious worldwide for "fried rice syndrome" - food poisoning due to its toxins in cooked rice.

People still get food poisoning from the bacteria but are unaware of the cause for their symptoms as the toxins are undetectable through smell, taste or colour.

It is difficult to completely avoid food contamination with this bacteria as it is often present in soil particles, dust and even sacks of uncooked rice grains.

While the bacteria is killed through heat treatment, its heat-resistant spores survive even when rice is cooked and multiply at an optimal temperature of between 30 deg C and 40 deg C, which is our room temperature.

The advice given by the Ministry of Health (MOH) against such food poisoning appears impractical for small-scale food catering kitchens such as those in school canteens, where food preparation areas are tiny and more than one dish needs preparing.

Quick-cooling large amounts of cooked rice and refrigerating it in bulk is impractical as there is not enough space to do so.

Keeping huge amounts of fried rice at above 60 deg C also presents the same problem in kitchens where the dish is prepared for bulk orders.

To prevent further outbreaks or unreported incidents, MOH should recommend that fried rice be removed from the menus of all cooked food caterers and suppliers preparing food en masse in small kitchens.

Amy Loh Chee Seen (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 15, 2018, with the headline 'Remove fried rice from cooked food stalls' menus'. Print Edition | Subscribe