|The Jakarta chapter of the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM) is stumbling over monitoring the quality of food and snacks consumed by elementary school students in the city.
BPOM head Dewi Prawitasari said her office could annually inspect a maximum of only 200 out of 3,600 elementary schools in the city due to a lack of facilities and human resources.
“We have suggested that the city administration allocate a certain amount of funds for food safety, so that more rapid test kits can be used for inspecting food at more schools,” she told The Jakarta Post over the phone on Friday.
Data at the BPOM Jakarta showed that the agency tested 2,056 food samples at 180 schools in Jakarta last year. This year, the agency plans to inspect only 75 schools, including a recent food inspection at state elementary school SDN 13 Rawamangun in East Jakarta.
“When visiting schools, we have the capacity to inspect food in their canteens only,” she said during the inspection.
“We can hardly inspect food and snacks sold by vendors outside schools’ fences,” she added.
Out of the samples tested last year, 1,787 samples or 87 percent were declared suitable for consumption, while the remaining 269 samples or 13 percent were deemed unsuitable because they contained noxious additives, according to the data.
Dewi said her office currently had only three mobile laboratories, each with five staffers, for food inspections at schools around the city.
She said that the BPOM discovered four additives frequently used in food making.
The additives — formalin, borax, metanil yellow and rhodamine B — could have dangerous effects on humans if they were consumed over a long period. Long-term consumption could cause severe problems, such as cancer and neurological or liver diseases.
Formalin and borax, she said, were usually illegally used in making tofu, meatballs and chips to prolong the foods’ consumption period and to produce a chewy texture, while metanil yellow and rhodamine B, textile dyes, were usually used for making cotton candy, ice cream cones, banana chips and cakes.
“These additives may not cause stomachache, which is caused by bacterial infection, but they can be harmful in the long term,” Dewi said.
Dewi said that although her agency only had limited human resources, she believed that it had offered effective and beneficial training to teachers at schools where vendors sold food containing dangerous additives. The trainings aim to inform teachers about food safety, so they can also supervise the quality of food sold in their canteens.
“SDN 13 Rawamangun was one of the schools that received training two years ago and we are glad that in today’s inspection, we did not find any noxious additives in its canteen’s food,” she said after the food tests were completed.
The canteen’s owner, Citra, said she cooked all the food she sold in the canteen by herself.
“My family also eats the food, so I use no food additives,” she said.
Dewi said parents or teachers should inform their children about the characteristics of dangerous snacks. They, too, could participate in monitoring suspicious foods because issues could be detected in various ways.
“Foods containing formalin and borax usually attract no flies and do not decay even if they are not kept in the fridge for three days,” she said, adding that foods and snacks with very bright colors should be avoided.
Dewi advised the public to report to the BPOM if they saw suspicious food being sold. “We will arrange an inspection to make sure the test results are used for the public’s good,” she said. (prm)
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