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Consuming shawarma has come under scathing attack from the Tamil Nadu health ministry after three students of Veterinary College and Research Institute students at Orathanadu, who consumed the meat dish at an eating joint near their hostel, fell ill due to food poisoning. The students fainted in their rooms after vomiting and a bout of diarrhoea. The death of a 16-year-old girl and hospitalisation of at least 40 other students due to suspected food poisoning from an eatery in Kerala’s Kasaragod had also fuelled the harsh warning on this cuisine. Any food item prepared in an unhygienic condition or stored improperly can lead to infections.

Shawarma is a popular Middle Eastern street food made with marinated meat wrapped in flatbread (kuboos, rumali roti, etc), along with mayonnaise and pickled vegetables. Shawarma is made by cutting meat into thin slices and placing it on a rotating rotisserie to slow-cook it in the heat.

Extra care should be taken when it comes to Arabian food, because the cuisine is from another country and needs to be adapted to the climate and environment here, following all the food safety regulations. The hired workers should know how to deal with such food items properly. In shawarma, especially, the ingredients involved are sensitive .Also, mayonnaise is made from raw eggs, so it has to be used within two hours of preparation. It can be dangerous if we don’t do all this.

The shawarma burner, which is almost always placed outside the eateries, is said to be another reason for the possible contamination of the food item. The burner emits heat of at least 300 ºC, which will make the entire room hot. This is why the burner is always placed outside the eatery. But unlike foreign countries, where pollution is less, the situation in our country is different. Emissions from vehicles and the dust in the air are all sure to contaminate any food prepared in an open space. It is because of this that glass compartments are made mandatory, to protect the burners from outside contamination.

Any meat item has to be maintained in proper condition in the freezer, otherwise it will get spoilt. Eating those spoiled items will cause serious health issues,.

According to the Safety and Quality of Meat and Poultry Guide Note’ released by  FSSAI (The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), meat should be stored at 4 ºC for short term storage and at -18 ºC or below for long term storage. Meat under normal chilling conditions (0 – 4 ºC) of storage shall be consumed within two to four days. Frozen meat stored at -18 ºC or below must preferably be consumed within 10 to 12 months. Meat and poultry foods must be cooked to a safe minimum internal temperature of 75 °C to destroy any harmful bacteria.

Extra care should be taken when it comes to Arabian food, because the cuisine is from another country and needs to be adapted to the climate and environment here, following all the food safety regulations

Two kinds of problems might arise from eating stale food. Organisms can enter the food item and produce toxins in it. If a person eats this, symptoms start immediately. In the second case, bacteria might start functioning inside the body after someone eats the food. In this case, the symptoms start around 12 hours after eating. All the children in Kasaragod started showing symptoms around 12 hours after eating the shawarma, so they were able to ascertain that it was a bacterial infection. Besides, the children had diarrhoea, stomach pain, vomit, fever – all of which are gastrointestinal symptoms caused by bacteria.

The death of the Keralite girl was due to severe food poisoning caused by a bacterium called shigella. The primary symptom for this is diarrhoea, which can be accompanied by stomach pain, fever, vomiting, etc. It can be fatal for children below the age of five or those with weakened immune systems. or the pathogen is resistant to the antibiotics that are prescribed. It is a very treatable condition; if a patient reaches hospital on time they can effectively be treated using IV antibiotics.

Shigellosis happens, but it is not a very common infection. Other infections like typhoid and cholera are common because of contaminated foods. The mortality of the infection is less than 1%.

Organisms form in decaying or old food items and release toxins, which becomes the reason for food poisoning. Chances of this happening are high during summer, as the food will decompose sooner in the heat. When we keep food in the freezer or in low temperatures, the functioning of the organisms will be limited. Severe dehydration caused by extreme diarrhoea can lead to death. Apart from this, the toxins caused by bacteria can enter the bloodstream and affect other vital organs.

The food safety department in Tamil Nadu has swung into action and sent  samples of a shop to a lab in Guindy to check the quality of the chicken used in the shawarma and also conducted raids across various shawarma shops in Madurai and Coimbatore districts. Officials have imposed fines on shops for packing the shawarma using unhygienic plastic products.

Restaurants should adhere to safety measures. They should buy and store all ingredients in a hygienic place and special care should be taken while handling meat.

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