Most Eating Houses Are Cholera Threats

CARING HANDS: Doctors attend to a patient admitted for cholera at the Mbagathi Hos- pital’s ward four. Cholera has killed 24 people in Nairobi since December last year.Photo/Enos Teche
CARING HANDS: Doctors attend to a patient admitted for cholera at the Mbagathi Hos- pital’s ward four. Cholera has killed 24 people in Nairobi since December last year.Photo/Enos Teche

Even as people continue to die and some counties including Nairobi clamp down on food kiosks, condemning them for selling food that is unfit for human consumption as the cholera outbreak spreads, many other filthy food outlets remain in operation. Apparently what matters to the public health and licensing authorities, is the location of and the type of building a restaurant is housed.

Enter any medium level eating house today and if you are keen, you will most likely walk out without ordering anything. The young girl, who doubles as the cashier and the handler of food from the counter to the waiters, will more often than not be picking her nose with her finger tips.

The next moment she would use the same finger (hand) to hold a slice of bread as she applies margarine, place the slice on a plate that she wipes with a damp cloth that has been lying on the counter the whole day.

Subsequently, she accepts a one hundred shilling note from one of the waiters and heads to the till to give out change before picking a collection of spoons, folks and knives from the sink. She lays them down on the counter and proceeds to wipe them with the wet germs-preserving piece of dump cloth. As she wipes the utensils with her contaminated hands, she handles the eating part as she ‘dries’ the holding part and vice versa and then roughly throws the utensils on a wet tray.

Presently the same girl picks the trash basket, walks with it into the kitchen and maybe to a dumpsite outside through the rear door. She washes her hand somewhere and then returns to the counter loosely holding the basket and proceeds to dry her hands with the same piece of rug.

The waiters, who in some outlets double as cleaners, are no better. One would mop the floor with muddy water, go outside to pour it and approach you at the table to take your order, without first washing his/her hands. Apart from eating, chewing gum with open mouths, they handle customer food carelessly, holding the top of tea cups and placing folk and spoon on plates of food.

Some of these establishments have no windows, vents or air conditioning and the air within is heavy and more likely than not, polluted and hence a fertile source of air borne diseases. How these establishments get licensed in the first place is a mystery. How they continue to operate under the ‘watchful’ eyes of the public health officers, is the million dollar question.

Butcheries are worse. Most of these nyama choma joints are tucked in the rear end of restaurants, next to the toilets. The toilets are usually filthy, smelly units with open doors and swarms of flies coming out them.

Those who fry or roast meat in these joints do it as sweat freely falls on the delicacies, use their hands to scoop and place charcoal in the burner, dirty implements to turn the charcoal inside the burner and the same hands to slice the juicy meat. The ‘waiters’, will wash the customers hands, but never their own; the same hands they use to cut and serve the meat. A second look at their white coats turned brown, are appetite killers.

Most towns in this country suffer from water shortage and the water used in most of these joints is fetched from questionable sources in donkey-pulled drums. Many nyama choma eaters appear unconcerned by this fact and will ask for and gulp a cup of water scooped from an open drum by the dirty hands. The plastic cups may have previously been used to serve ‘bone’ soup and washing is mediocre and only involves dipping cups in and out of cold water.

The problem appear to be that as long as businesses pay county governments fees and levies, damn be hygiene and the welfare of customers. Councils are supposed to evaluate premises before eating or other houses are licensed to operate, but apparently the assessors are blind to such points as lack of windows, emergency escape routes and flow of air.

Public health officers pretend to do their job yet, most if not all of the people who work as waiters, cooks and other food handling activities, do not have medical certificates, are mostly dirty and have not been trained to handle food. The restaurant owners and their supervisors also have absolutely no knowledge on issues food and their ‘trader mentality’ completely ignores matters hygiene.

Unless people who run these joints change their greedy ways, employ trained food handlers and supervise them accordingly and the county government officials in charge of licensing and public health up their game instead of queuing for bribes, people will continue dying of cholera and other diseases.