By Soon Li Wei
This is the first of a two-part article on the use of staple pins in food packaging that can pose safety issues for consumers.
KUALA LUMPUR (Bernama) – M Fazil M Shahril never fails to pack some pulut panggang or tepung pelita to take home each time he visits the night market or kuih stall as his wife and four-year-old son love to eat these banana leaf-wrapped Malay traditional delights.
But before buying them, the 45-year-old human resource executive makes sure that the banana leaf is not fastened with staples as he knows only too well the danger posed by these thin pieces of wire.
During the month of Ramadan last year, his son accidentally swallowed a staple pin whilst eating pulut panggang which Fazil had purchased from a stall for their breaking of fast meal, and the ensuing trauma his family experienced was something he would never forget.
“My son accidentally swallowed a staple that was used to clamp the banana leaf wrapper … it got stuck in his throat and he howled in pain.
“My wife and I took him to a nearby clinic but he was referred to the government hospital where the doctor spent hours trying to find out exactly where the staple was lodged. Finally, our son was given some medicine to regurgitate whatever he had eaten and that was when the staple came out,” he told Bernama.
Following that incident, Fazil avoids buying food wrapped in stapled packaging. If he has no other choice but to buy it, he would request the trader to remove the wrapper and staples and pack the kuih in a container.
Lawyer Tiffany Lim, 26, has also had the nasty experience of swallowing a staple pin that was attached to a teabag.
“I wasn’t aware that the teabag was clamped by a staple which must have got dislodged because while I was drinking the tea I felt a sense of discomfort in my throat area.
“I then went to see a doctor who did an X-ray and I was shocked when he told me a staple was stuck on the wall of my throat – that was the source of my discomfort,” she said, adding that the doctor used a special instrument to remove the staple from her throat.
Last October, the Public Health Malaysia Facebook account highlighted the case of a child whose gum became swollen and painful after a staple got stuck between two of her teeth. The dentist who attended to her found that the part of the gum where the pin was lodged had become infected and was filled with pus.
STAPLING CONVENIENT WAY TO ‘SEAL’ PACKAGING
The enforcement of the Movement Control Order (MCO) last March saw many people resorting to ordering takeaway meals or opting for online home delivery services.
The hike in takeaways and home deliveries during the MCO saw increased uptake of food packaging that have to be sealed to prevent their contents from pouring out. And, most restaurant operators and traders take the easy way out by stapling the packaging as they find it a more convenient and faster way to “seal” the packages.
Not only that, even the food packets distributed to the people living in areas placed under Enhanced MCO, as well as to the homeless and residents of welfare homes are fastened with staples.
A random survey of restaurants, food courts and stalls in the Klang Valley by Bernama showed that the practice of stapling food packaging has become the norm now and not many people seemed to be aware of the danger posed by the staples.
Senior citizens with poor eyesight and children are particularly at risk as they may accidentally swallow one of the sharp pins that can get lodged in their throat or even the oesophagus which, if not removed, can lead to serious health implications.
A restaurant helper, who only wanted to be identified as Victor, said they have been using staples for a long time and so far no customer has complained to them of the danger of stapling food packages.
“Previously, we used rubber bands to tie up food packages but now if a customer only orders a few pieces of kuih, we would place them inside a plastic bag, fold the top part and staple it. Well of course, when opening the plastic bag later, the customer will have to remove and discard the staples so that they don’t fall into the food,” he said.
BAN STAPLING FOR FOOD PACKAGING
Federation of Malaysian Consumer Associations deputy president Mohd Yusof Abdul Rahman urged local authorities to impose a ban on stapling for food packaging in view of the danger it posed to consumers.
Claiming that awareness of consumer safety is still low among food operators, he said it is risky to staple food packaging as people may accidentally swallow the pins.
“Most cases related to swallowing foreign objects involve children and senior citizens,” he said.
In 2018, the Kuantan Municipal Council banned the use of stapled food packaging at Ramadan bazaars, as well as the use of plastic and polystyrene packets. Traders and hawkers found flouting the ruling were issued a maximum compound of RM250.
Mohd Yusof said other local authorities should also impose a similar ruling and urged traders and hawkers to use alternative packaging for their food.
The authorities should have put a stop to the practice of stapling food packages a long time ago, he said, adding that they should not wait for “something bad to happen before taking action”.
“This is something that involves the safety of consumers, and the local authorities and Health Department should take this matter seriously,” he added.
Translated by Rema Nambiar
Malaysian National News Agency
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