This article is from May 10, 2022

Chicken Shawarma – Analysis: Is it edible ? Is the Minister right ?

A schoolgirl who ate shawarma at a restaurant in Kasaragod, Kerala, has died of food poisoning. The 18 students who ate with her also fainted following which the Kerala Food Department officials sealed the shop that sold shawarma. The deceased Kerala student was diagnosed with Shigella bacterial infection.

Following the Kerala incident, three students of Orathanad Veterinary College in Tamil Nadu were admitted to Tanjore Medical College after vomiting and fainting due to the consumption of chicken shawarma.

Following this, food safety officials turned their attention to shawarma shops across Tamil Nadu. Investigations are being carried out on restaurants selling shawarma in various locations across the state. Investigations unveil that many stores have spoiled meat, and unhealthy cooking.

Tamil Nadu Health Minister Ma Subramanian said in an interview on the Shawarma issue, “Shawarma is western food. It suits the temperatures in those countries. It doesn’t affect when kept outside because there the climate is minus degrees. But no one cares if this food adapts to our climate. No one even sees if it can be processed and stored properly. Now there are over 1000 stores where awareness is created, instruction is provided and fines are collected. This will continue throughout Tamil Nadu.

A plea to the people, we have a lot of food, so do not spoil your body by eating new foods like shawarma. The Minister asks people should avoid shawarma. But Shawarma is also being sold in Arab countries. Various questions have been raised on social media including ‘if the quality of the food is not as expected why ban a food variety’, ‘quality is compensated in various food varieties including shawarma, pani puri and other such fast food and snack items in roadside shops, so will everything be banned or any action will be taken?’.

Meanwhile, it has been reported that the Municipal Council has decided to ban the sale of shawarma in the area under Gudiyatham municipality.

When we spoke to Dr Praveen about the shawarma issue and the bacteria in the shawarma that the student ate in Kerala, he said, “Shawarma came from the Middle East. It started in Lebanon and then slowly came to the Middle East and is now found in many parts of the world. It is heated on a grill and placed on bread.

In Kerala, it is caused by a bacterium called Shigella. There are three types in this group. It is spread through improperly cooked meat, infected person’s waste, unhygienic foods and water and unprotected and unhealthy sexual contact with an infected person. Due to this, severe diarrhea and dehydration can occur. It can be difficult to treat if there is drug resistance to this bacterium.

Possible causes for its spread include uncooked meat, not properly preserved stale meat, eating the stored meat at home later, and the preparation of food by an unhygienic person.

Question: Does this only happen in shawarma?
Answer: No, it can occur in any food. Its effects have been felt not only in India but also in many other countries.
Question: Is Shawarma Safe?
Answer: Yes, it is safe to eat if it is prepared and cooked hygienically.
Question: Is any other infection possible?
Answer: Many bacteria can grow in old or improperly cooked foods. Therefore, it is possible. Therefore, always eat food prepared hygienically.
Question: Is it related to climate?
Answer: No, this is not due to climate. It can occur in any season, in any country, in any food.
Question: Are there treatments?
Answer: Yes. Death can be prevented by early detection and treatment with IV antibiotics and IV fluids to prevent dehydration.
As for the shawarma, the climate here does not mean that it should not be eaten. There does not seem to have any evidence for that. Shawarma is eaten even in Saudi Arabia, which is hotter than India.”

Speaking to Vijaykumar, a Food Safety Officer in Orathanad, he said, “Four students vomited and fainted while eating shawarma, while another remained unharmed. After that incident, we conducted investigations not only in Orathanad but also in the Thanjavur area. No spoiled meat was confiscated during the investigation that took place the next day of the incident. No other stores were confiscated.

However, we have collected samples from the concerned shop and sent them for analysis. It may be due to the fact that while heating chicken for shawarma the inside part is not properly heated, or may be affected by the ingredients used in it. While working in Pudukkottai last year, 3 people who ate shawarma were admitted to the hospital. ”

If there are mistakes or damage in the preparation of food, it is necessary to create awareness with proper instruction. The problem here is, that the focus falls on the causes only after some bad incident happens. Spoiled and unhygienic food items, contaminated water, and cooking space are all questionable here.

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