Eating out is second nature to Malaysians and is a rite of passage to dine at a local Mamak for many including tourists. Let’s face it, we love our food and our culture also revolves around it. We have three distinct ethnic groups living together and it is harmonious because of the food. It is not uncommon for a Malaysian studying or living abroad to create a mental wish list of the things that you would want to eat whilst on break in Malaysia well before arriving in the country. But besides the love, when we order a Mamak mee goreng and an iced Milo to go with it, have we given much thought to the fact that the ice cubes floating in our beverage could potentially carry disease? You are probably wondering… “is this for real?”
Working behind the scenes is Dr Chai Lay Ching, who works very closely with Ministry of Health to ensure food is safe for public consumption. The 35 year old ‘food safety specialist’ is currently conducting a microbial risk assessment of ice cubes. Studies have shown that certain strains of bacteria do live and multiply in a cold environment, so Dr Chai is tracking ice cubes and how they are handled from factories, eateries to consumers, to identify whether they cause harm to people. This 2-3 year study aims to prevent ill-health by establishing baseline data and will reveal practices that contribute to the contamination of ice cubes. The study will also develop a mathematical model of the number of people getting sick from ice cubes to better inform policies and Food Safety awareness programs.
Married to her work, Dr. Chai is currently a senior lecturer at the Institute of Biological Sciences at University of Malaya. She obtained her PhD degree, specializing in Microbiology and Food Safety from Universiti Putra Malaysia in 2008. Having published more than 50 papers for peer-reviewed journals in Food Microbiology and Safety, she acts as an advisor on food safety projects and facilitates workshops for the Ministry of Health. She also actively runs workshops on ethical research practices for young academicians and is also member of Young Scientists Network.
As a child, she aspired to be a doctor as her father had suffered kidney failure. She found her calling upon coming across an article on science at the age of 16. Following which, in her application to Universiti Putra Malaysia, she chose three Biotechnology courses and this was the stepping stone towards an illustrious career.