fomca logoSunday, 06 Jun 2021
Malaysians should try to limit trips to buy groceries to reduce the risk of being exposed to Covid-19. Don’t be too fussy about food choices either during such hard times, experts advise. 

BUY groceries to last for two weeks, store food in optimum ways and don’t be too fussy about available choices. Such are the words of advice to consumers, so that they can cut down on trips to supermarkets, wet markets and stores to limit exposure to Covid-19 and its variants.

It has become crucial to stay home as much as possible, with the rise of sporadic cases and new infections looming in thousands each day in Malaysia. Shopping online is one of the safer ways to get fresh produce and avoid crowds, but due to high traffic, there are times when orders are delayed or items are unavailable. 

If this is not an option, experts urge people to limit their grocery runs to once in two weeks, instead of weekly.

Federation of Malaysian Consumers Associations (Fomca) deputy secretary general Nur Asyikin Aminuddin says it’s possible to buy fresh food that can last up to two weeks. “But we need to keep them under optimum condition.

“The freshness of the food will deteriorate with time. But consumers should not be too fussy at such critical times. “More importantly, we still have food on our table, ” she says. With the emergence of new Covid-19 variants, Nur Asyikin calls on consumers to stop crowding in enclosed areas to stock up on groceries.

“Retailers should also improve their online services for the benefit of customers, ” she adds. Recently, people were seen flocking to supermarkets immediately after the government announced a total lockdown from June 1 to 14.

This is despite the authorities assuring that there is sufficient food supply during the movement control order (MCO) and no shortages in previous lockdowns. On such panic buying, Nur Asyikin urges consumers to change this bad habit, as it can lead to overbuying and food wastage. Concurring that Malaysians shouldn’t be choosy, Nutrition Society of Malaysia president Dr Tee E. Siong says consumers should be prepared to use alternatives.

“For example, if we can’t find the type of rice that we are used to, we can also consume sweet potatoes. “We still try to rely on fresh foods as the main source of food supplies, but we cannot run away from using some pre-packaged, canned or frozen foods.

“Even in normal times, there is no harm in consuming some of these, which have a longer shelf life, ” Dr Tee says. However, people should choose healthier varieties of such foods by reading the nutrition information.

“We may have to rely on frozen food like fish, prawn, peas and corn as these will last longer, ” he says. 


Storage is key

Proper storage also preserves our food longer and can save us a trip to the grocers. For fresh vegetables, Dr Tee says people can opt for non-leafy types like cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, leek and bitter gourd as they don’t wilt quickly. “To keep the veggies longer, especially the leafy kind, you can spread out the veggies to air and remove the moisture so that they last longer.

“Pack them into smaller bags, especially for green vegetables like spinach, sweet potato leaf and kangkong. “It is better to remove yellow and rotten parts before keeping in the fridge, ” he advises. Meat like poultry should be put into smaller packs and frozen.

“Keeping a big piece is not advisable as we need to thaw it, cut what we need and freeze it back. Such repeated freezing and thawing will affect the quality of the meat, ” he says. Similarly for big portions of fish, consumers should cut smaller pieces and keep them in separate bags.

“Nutritionists recommend cooking brown rice as they are healthier, but they spoil faster as they contain healthy fatty acids. So, keep brown rice in cool places, ” Dr Tee adds. Hoping that families will keep preparing healthy meals at home, he says the goal should be to strengthen the immune system to fight Covid-19.

“We should think beyond the pandemic, to realise that healthy eating is the key towards fighting the non-communicable diseases that we have been grappling with for decades. “We also need to win the fight against obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer, ” he highlights. Noting that the pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon, Dr Tee says the public should come to terms with the reality that Malaysia is in this for the long haul.


Freeze your food

Another way that consumers can stretch our grocery visits is by fully utilising our freezers, says Khazanah Research Institute senior research associate Dr Sarena Che Omar. “Once frozen, a food item can stay good for many months. “This includes most protein sources such as meat and seafood, and even milk. “Bread can be frozen too, and toasted when needed, ” says Dr Sarena, whose areas of interest are policies on food, agriculture, and sustainability.

Some vegetables can also be placed in the freezer like ginger, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, curry leaves, pandan leaves, petai, broccoli and cauliflower. “For fresh herbs, buy those that come in pots. Some can also be kept longer in water such as spring onions and coriander, ” Dr Sarena adds.

She says it’s now a good time for people to start their own food garden, especially in growing ulam and herbs for the kitchen if they have the space to do so. Agricultural and resource economics specialist Prof Datuk Dr Nasir Shamsudin says these times provide an opportunity for Malaysians to practise sustainable consumption that will reduce food wastage. After all, Malaysians produce enough food waste to fill seven Olympic-sized swimming pools daily, according to the Solid Waste Management and Public Cleansing Corporation (SWCorp).

In the first MCO, disruptions in the food chain were minimal as food supply was adequate and thus, the market was stable. “In the MCO 3.0, we should not expect any insufficient food supplies. “However, we may risk a looming food crisis unless measures are taken to protect the most vulnerable, keep food supply chains alive and mitigate the pandemic’s impacts across the food system, ” he says. As such, Dr Nasir says the Pemerkasa Plus aid announced by the Prime Minister that RM2.1bil will be distributed to households earning less than RM5,000 per month is timely to avoid any food insecurity for the low income group.

“What is important now is to make sure the supply chain involving farmers, processors, and distributors is efficient to avoid hiccups in supply. “The authorities should continue to closely monitor food prices and strengthen market supervision, and ensure effective delivery of agricultural inputs including feed, ” he says. Dr Nasir calls for strategies to ensure better food security preparedness in case there is another pandemic or other major catastrophes.

“The government should support the digitization of the food business supply chain from farms to consumers, ” he suggests. For consumers whose livelihoods are cut off due to the MCO, the government needs to ensure the continuity of livelihood assistance especially among the urban poor, Dr Nasir says.