Street food is cheap, delectable and plentiful. But eating these foods could prove risky if the vendor does not practice proper sanitary measures.
In Marikina City, the consumers are assured that the vendors sell clean food and water. This is because the city government put up its very own Clean Food and Water Laboratory, which conducts regular tests to determine if the water and food being sold in the markets are potable and safe.
The Clean Food and Water Laboratory project aims to promote food safety awareness among producers, manufacturers, food retailers and consumers. Towards this end, the city government disseminates information about distributes a flyer on “Simple Household Sanitation Practices” as well as a brochure about the “Marikina Clean Food and Water Laboratory.” Food Safety Bulletins are put up at the Market Area. In addition, City Ordinance No. 63, series of 2003 required all food eatery owners and helpers in public markets in the City of Marikina to undergo Comprehensive Food Safety and Personal Hygiene training.
The project also entails regular monitoring of the quality of water being supplied and sold within the city to ensure compliance with the Sanitation Code of the Philippines (P.D. 856). This is mandated by Ordinance No. 167, series of 2001.
On a monthly basis, the water from refilling stations and haulers are tested for the presence of harmful bacteria. In addition, joint water sampling is undertaken to monitor the quality of the water being supplied to the consumers by the water concessionaire, Manila Water Company. Samples are taken at identified sampling points of the water distribution system within the city. The program aims to protect the local populace against waterborne diseases and illnesses.
Meanwhile, the food being sold within the city is also continually monitored and tested to ensure that it is safe. To determine if the food establishments are observing sanitation standards, microbiological testing is done by conducting random swab testing on food contact surfaces, utensils and even the hands of personnel who handle food in the market. Even the duration and temperature of the food being sold are monitored.
Consumers can file a complaint against erring food vendors. The complainant fills up a form at the laboratory and the owner of the food stall is notified about the complaint. The results of the food test are then reported to the authorities for appropriate action. Water samples with unsatisfactory results are dealt with accordingly to prevent their consumption. Vendors who do not comply with the standards set by the Philippine National Standards for Drinking Water are meted sanctions by the Sanitation Section of the City Health Office.
The project enticed the World Health Organization to fund a program dubbed “Optimizing a Marikina City Clean Food and Water Laboratory Model System for Linking Food Safety Improvements in Street and/or Market Vending to Activities Targeting Poverty Reduction.” This program also pursues safe handling practices and sanitation in food vending activities in the city public market.
The increase in Marikina Public Market’s revenue could be partly due to the city’s high level of health and sanitation standards. Even the food testing laboratory has been earning a tidy sum. This is partly due to the additional requirement imposed by the Department of Health on all water refilling stations—they are required to undergo Water Bacteriological Examination which is charged a fee of P300. The fee may seem hefty but is actually cheaper compared to what is being charged by private laboratories. A fee of P200 is charged for the Heterotrophic Plate Count (for refilling stations only). As a result, the revenues being generated from the program through collection of fees are enough to keep the program going. The taxpayers of Marikina City can avail of the services of the laboratory for free for one test as part of their privileges. The food stall owners are active participants in the program. The residents, private establishments and local government units of the neighboring cities/municipalities (Pasig, Rizal, Quezon City, Makati, etc.) are now also availing of the services of the laboratory for water microbiological examination. The city government has also been receiving numerous invitations to share its innovative programs to other LGUs.
The program is simple in the sense that it takes only the necessary facility and a few but competent and well-experienced people to run it. Operation cost is manageable and any LGU can well afford to adopt the program. In fact, a number of LGUs already visited the laboratory for adoption purposes with Muntinlupa City establishing the same set-up in its locality after such visits.