Just when Laeticia Lacerna’s friend was starting to enjoy her bowl of bacsilog—a meal composed of bacon, fried rice, and fried egg—she noticed something unusual: it had cockroaches.
Lacerna, a first year student studying human resource management in De La Salle-College of St. Benilde, immediately took a photo of the tainted food and uploaded it to social media in December last year. Not long after, the post went viral. Ate Rica’s Bacsilog, the stall who sold to her the meal, replied to Lacerna’s post with a promise to investigate the incident.
For most DLSU students, food establishments within vicinity of the campus serve as places to grab quick meals, some at affordable prices. But the case of Lacerna does raise the concern of whether there is a tradeoff between convenience and food safety.
Other unsatisfied customers
Incidents of badly served food, such as Lacerna’s, are not isolated. Citing his own experience at Agno Food Court is Lance Orsos (I, ECE2), who claims he was served undercooked beef by one of its stalls. A regular customer of the food court, he narrates that he was trying out new restaurants, only to find himself munching on what was he describes as “cold meat”.
Orsos reasons that in these types of situations, “you get what you [pay] for.” He also highlights his dislike of the atmosphere around the establishments, citing the smell of “sewer water” as one factor that ruins his appetite.
Alec Billan (III, BSA), another regular patron of Agno Food Court, cites that he eats there “approximately two times a week” and rates the food court “in the OK status when it comes to sanitation.” However, he does relay one unfortunate experience where he suffered a stomach ache for a couple of hours after eating breakfast served by one of the stalls.
On the recent viral incident with Ate Rica’s Bacsilog, Billan believes that Agno’s management should conduct proper sanitation assessments, and that the administrator should decide whether or not to close down delinquent stalls.
Stall inspections and food permits
According to Chapter III, Section 14 of Presidential Decree (PD) 856 or The Code on Sanitation of the Philippines, a food establishment is not allowed to become fully operational without securing a sanitary permit from the local health office. The exhaustive requirements, which are regulated throughout the country, also include ensuring workers are properly qualified to serve meals and ensuring facilities and equipment are properly maintained.
Associate Vice Chancellor for Campus Services Karen Hebron reveals that although the University has no jurisdiction over street vendors and food establishments outside the campus, their office still provides assistance in implementing food sanitation policies. “In the past months, [our office] has been reaching out to neighboring communities. We engage [with] them [through] food safety programs in the hopes of addressing food sanitation issues outside of the campus,” she explains.
Ate Rica’s Bacsilog, Happy N’ Healthy, Plato Wraps, Potato Giant, and Yatai Japanese Street Food were among the food stalls approached by The LaSallian who claim to possess the required sanitary permit. There are also regular inspections made by both Agno’s management and the stall’s auditors in order to ensure that cleanliness is regulated and conducted.
According to several of the interviewed workers from these establishments, the inspection schedule varies between food establishments. Regine Palma, a crew member at Plato Wraps, shares that their auditors examine their stall every three months.
Meanwhile, within campus premises, Potato Giant employee Michelle Villegas states that an officer from their head office conducts an inspection every Friday instead.
Hebron, on the other hand, adds that her office also conducts regular inspections on all food concessionaires inside the campus, reminding them before and after each term break to conduct pest control and general cleaning within
Although insects, flies, and other pests might be contributors to the sanitation problem faced by Taft-based food establishments, server Wilma Rama of Yatai Japanese Street Food considers the possibility that customers may plant contaminants on their food to take advantage of food stalls.
She argues that her stall always conducts general cleaning every Saturday, while their products and materials are constantly being checked, making it highly unlikely for insects to still find their way to the food.
On the other hand, Dennis Gregorio, one of the employees of Happy N’ Healthy, a food stall located in the Animo Business Innovation Zone at Br. Bloemen Hall, admits that cockroaches can sometimes be found crawling inside the building, but emphasizes that they continuously maintain cleanliness within their stall.
Under Section 20 of PD 856, a general requirement to control for vermin and pests is also included. Food establishments are required to maintain a “vermin abatement program” to ensure cleanliness within their work environment. Should the establishment fail to do so, the local health agency will conduct the maintenance themselves, at the expense of the business in question.
Hebron shares that managers and owners of food concessionaires are required to attend the Basic Food Safety Orientation for them to operate their business inside the campus. Through this seminar, they are reminded of the importance of food safety and are taught how to ensure that the food served is safe for customer consumption.
Following these guidelines, Lister Saradolla, a member of the service crew from Ate Rica’s Bacsilog, assures that their business conducts multiple safety measures to ensure that the food served is always clean. “Kasi kailangan araw-araw talaga—araw-araw nililinis mo yung store. Tapos yung mga food namin, laging nasa freezer or refrigerator para hindi siya masira or mabulok,” he clarifies.
(We really need to clean the store daily. And with regard to our food, they are always stored in a freezer or a refrigerator to avoid spoilage.)
Regarding Potato Giant’s procedure, when it comes to handling sanitation, Villegas shares that she also inspects the meal before serving it to customers, noting any absence of contaminants.
Despite these control checks, Saradolla believes that food contamination is inevitable. “Minsan kasi nangyayari talaga yun, na may mga insect talaga na naliligaw dito sa food court sa Agno, lalo na dahil open siya masyado kasi. So ‘di talaga maiiwasan na magkaroon ng mga insect,” he explains.
(Sometimes, it is inevitable for there to be stray insects around the food court in Agno, especially since it’s an open area. It’s really difficult to avoid them.)