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JEDDAH, Aug 29: At a shrimp sandwich joint in the Al-Sulaymania district of Jeddah, a yellowish cockroach caught my eye. The insect could be seen crawling over seafood just as I was preparing to order two grilled shrimp sandwiches.

When I brought the attention of the attendant serving me to our unwelcome friend, I did not expect what came next. The attendant smiled as nothing was wrong and said, “Oh, this little thing.”

He then slammed his palm on the cockroach killing it instantly — crunch. Like any sane customer, I decided not to order, as my craving for seafood, unsurprisingly, dwindled.

Reports of food poisoning have been fairly common in Jeddah. “There are hundreds of unhealthy cafeterias operating in the city. I don’t understand why they’re still operating,” said Mansour Al-Asiri, who had a similar encounter as mine.

Al-Asiri was unfortunate enough to witness an insect crawling over a range of uncovered food at a cafeteria, which he says he “used to frequent.”

“My stomach aches when I think that I used to eat at this place every day,” said Al-Asiri, adding that he does not have time to make breakfast at home. “After this encounter, I decided to go to work hungry. It’s better than stopping by one of these unhealthy cheap joints,” he said.

“In a period of two months, I’ve had food poisoning twice as a result of eating outside. I’ve become fairly selective when eating and have stopped visiting seedy corner joints,” said Ismail Muhammad, a British expatriate living in Jeddah.

According to a municipality official, who wished to remain anonymous, there are strict health regulations that eateries need to meet before being granted permission to operate. “One of the required regulations is installing an insect catcher. ... Employees working at cafeterias also need to provide medical reports proving that they are fit and healthy,” he said.

Regulations include the usage of stainless steal cooking pots and pans in addition to apparatus to ensure food remains hot.

The official warned that violators are handed large fines and face potential closure. “The monitoring does not stop once the eatery is opened. Monitoring continues to ensure the complete and continuous implementation of rules and regulations,” he said.

Cafeteria workers are also known to bribe municipality inspectors when caught violating regulations. Hamza, an Indian worker at a cafeteria located in the Al-Thagher district, complained of municipality employees harassing him for money.

“If I don’t pay them off, the shop is closed and I end up paying a massive fine — much more than the actual bribe itself,” said Hamza.

“The thing is, the inspector keeps on coming for more money whenever he falls short on cash, it’s annoying,” he added.

When asked why he does not report the inspector to the authorities and why he cannot adhere to rules, Hamza said he has complained to another municipality employee. “He tried reasoning with the guy but nothing has worked. I don’t want to escalate the matter. I just want to solve it,” he said.

Hamza said that he struggles to operate legally due to endless municipality regulations. “The inspector comes up with further violations to squeeze more money from me. It’s easier to pay him off,” he said. 


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