Gullibility

gul•li•ble
adjective
easily deceived or cheated

Related forms gul•li•bil•i•ty, noun gul•li•bly, adverb

I have a friend who is amazingly gullible. Every week she’ll send some mass email about some urban legend or myth, the latest one being hawkers adding plastic items into their frying pans to ensure the fried food retain its crispiness.

Everytime she sends an email like this, I’ll write back to her to tell her that it’s 1) a myth, 2) a hoax, 3) plain illogical, or some permutation of the 3. And as faithful as a crystal quartz, she’ll always reply to ask, “How you know it’s not true?”. To this, I will always either give a logical reasoning as to why it’s not true, or send her some articles that can be easily found online to debunk the myth.

And just as faithfully as she questions how I know the topic at hand is untrue, she will always end our discussion with, “Aiyah, you never know. Better safe than sorry”.

Sigh. So the cycles continues till today. I mean, that fried banana was the last plastic on the camel’s back. I was too tired to try to explain to her how illogical the story was, and sent her a website instead. The site’s (http://www.theborneopost.com/?p=27264) really funny.. so I thought I’ll reproduce the article here for your reading pleasure. (It contains some cooking tips too!)

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Crispy recipe vs plastic truth
By Irene C & Zora Chan

IS there any truth to all the talks about some stall operators using plastic materials to prepare banana fritters, yu ca kui, salad chicken rice and chicken meat to make them crisper and more attractive to consumers?

To find out, thesundaypost team turned ‘myth busters’ in an endeavour to shed light on this food (and health) issue after being told that a hawker had poured half a plastic bag of cooking oil into a hot wok at a local eatery sometime ago.

In their fact-finding assignment, the team first obtained samples of the foods in question and then contacted two local chemist companies to find out whether they could do some tests. Both said they were not equipped to do so.

Even the State Health Department, the State Chemistry Department and Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) were unable to help.

But State Chemistry Department director Sim Hang Thiew said he had also heard of such rumours but doubted they were true.

“We had never done any test before — we don’t have the equipment,” he added.

According to him, the department’s lab could do certain tests on foods such as determining whether they were contaminated with bacteria or contained banned ingredients.

Sim believed hawkers had their own secret recipes to make banana and prawn fritters and chicken meat crisper but not with plastic.

“It could be other things like the right mixture of flour. Different types of flour such as wheat and rice produce different results.”

Besides, he noted, not all plastic materials like straws, bags and raffia strings melted in boiling oil at the same temperature.

“There’s no logic to it (deep-frying foods with plastic to make them crisper),” he said.

Asked whether the department would carry out tests to set the record straight, Sim replied: “No, unless there’s a public outcry, prompting the Health Department to investigate and send the samples to us for analysis.”

He said if necessary, the samples would be sent to Kuala Lumpur as the lab here was not adequately equipped.

Presently, he added, the department carried out lab tests for the Health Department on permitted colourings, preservatives, heavy metal and any prohibited food addictives.

“We also test the quality of water for drinking and the environment.”

According to an Internet source (wywahoos.org/wahoos/cookbook/tools.htm) it is hard to measure the boiling point of oil because well before it reaches its boiling point, oil will start to smoke and this is called the smoke point.

The smoke points for some common cooking oils are 266 degrees C for safflower, 257 degrees C for soybean, 246 degree C for corn, 227 deg-rees C for peanut, 216 degree C for sesame and , 191 degree C for olive. The exact tempe-rature will depend on how pure the oil is.

A State Health Depart-ment spokesman said its food section had never received any public complaint or come across allegations of foods being deep-fried in oil mixed with plastic.

He said the department’s lab only carried out tests to detect food poisoning caused by bacteria or virus, not plastic products, adding that melted plastic could be difficult to detect.

“One way is to catch the hawkers on the spot but to do this, we need public cooperation.

“The public who know of such things should let us know so that we can investigate,” he added.

To date, the department has yet to conduct any study on the effects of plastic-contami-nated foods on human health.

To satisfy their curosity (with public health in mind), thesundaypost team carried out their own experiment.

Two samples — A and B — were bought from a shop at a commercial centre and a market respectively while another three were home-cooked with some culinary tips from housewives.

Samples A and B were left at thesundaypost office desk for half a day. Both lost their crunchiness with B turning soft faster.

Meanwhile, a nip down to a grocery proved useful as the team were able to pick up some useful tips from experienced cooks there.

One suggested the best way to fry banana fritters was to mix some rice flour with plain or wheat flour.

“The wheat flour should be more than the rice flour. If the mixture is right, your banana fritters will be nice and remain crispy for more than an hour,” she said.

Some of the banana fritter sellers she knew used plain, wheat and rice flour together.

Concurring with the cook, a housewife, shopping for grocery, suggested a little bit of tapioca flour could also do the trick.

“That’s how I prepare mine,” she said.

Another shopper suggested lime or kapur (white substance or calcium oxide normally taken with sirih or bettlenuts) mixed with wheat flour.

Following these tips, the team created the following samples:

C (plain flour only and water)
D (plain and rice flour and water)
E (plain and tapioca flour and water)
F (plain flour, lime and water)
G (plain flour only and water but with plastic cooking oil container, straw and raffia string thrown into the boiling oil.
The samples were cooked in a controlled environment — with the same wok, oil and ingredients used for some of the batter from the same packet. The oil was smoking before the banana slices were put in.

Samples C to F were edible with slight variations in taste while Sample G was a ‘no no’ with bits of melted plastic stuck on its outer skin.

A piece of Sample G was then broken in two and a plastic odour immediately became apparent. Of course, no one was dumb enough to want to eat it!

All the samples were tested for their crispiness and only C and E were still crunchy.

After a half a day on the office table, all the samples had gone soggy. Sample G (with plastic) also did not pass the crunchy test and its outer layer was hard to pull off and very tough.

thesundaypost team passed round the edible samples to the newsroom “guinea pigs” to get their comments.

The team also interviewed several people, including hawkers and a manager of a Samples A and B were left at thesundaypost office desk for half a day. Both lost their crunchiness with B turning soft faster.

Meanwhile, a nip down to a grocery proved useful as the team were able to pick up some useful tips from experienced cooks there. One suggested the best way to fry banana fritters was to mix some rice flour with plain or wheat flour.

“The wheat flour should be more than the rice flour. If the mixture is right, your banana fritters will be nice and remain crispy for more than an hour,” she said.

Some of the banana fritter sellers she knew used plain, wheat and rice flour together.

Concurring with the cook, a housewife, shopping for grocery, suggested a little bit of tapioca flour could also do the trick.

“That’s how I prepare mine,” she said.

Another shopper suggested lime or kapur (white substance or calcium oxide normally taken with sirih or bettlenuts) mixed with wheat flour.

Following these tips, the team created the following samples:

C (plain flour only and water)
D (plain and rice flour and water)
E (plain and tapioca flour and water)
F (plain flour, lime and water)
G (plain flour only and water but with plastic cooking oil container, straw and raffia string thrown into the boiling oil.
The samples were cooked in a controlled environment — with the same wok, oil and ingredients used for the batter from the same packet. The oil was smoking before the banana slices were put in.

Samples C to F were edible with slight variations in taste while Sample G was a ‘no no’ with bits of melted plastic stuck on its outer skin.

A piece of Sample G was then broken in two and a plastic odour immediately became apparent. Of course, no one was dumb enough to want to eat it!

All the samples were tested for their crispness and only C and E were still crunchy.

After half a day on the office table, all the samples had gone soggy. Sample G (with plastic) also did not pass the crunchy test and its outer layer was hard to pull off and very tough.

thesundaypost team passed round the edible samples to the newsroom “guinea pigs” to get their comments.

The team also interviewed several people, including hawkers and a manager of a fast food franchise outlet for more insight into the matter.

A stall operator in town claimed she saw a seller of prawn fritters and fried bean curds putting a plastic oil container into boiling oil.

The operator said instead of using a knife or a pair of scissors to cut open the plastic, the seller just dipped the whole bag in.

“I saw the bag melt in the boiling oil in front of my eyes. The seller was next to my stall.”

A coffeeshop owner said after learning about the seller’s action, she advised him to cease what he was doing.

“After I told him off, he stopped. But I think the business was not very good after that because the fritters were not so crispy anymore. He closed shop a few months later,” the coffeeshop owner revealed.

A hawker selling kuih (local delicacy for breakfast and tea) said claims that plastic could make deep-fried food crisper was plain rubbish.

“I’ve been frying and selling kuih, including banana fritters, for years. One secret to crisper banana fritters is using young bananas as ripe or overly ripe fruits tend to be soft and less crunchy when fried. Another secret is the right amount of wheat and rice flour for the batter.

“Add some sugar to make the fritters tastier and eggs to have that nice golden look. Some hawkers use food colouring for their batter instead of eggs because it is cheaper,” he said.

Had any hawkers been caught putting plastics into their batter or cooking oil, they surely would have lost their li-cence by now, he pointed out.

Some hawkers added a small amount of lime but this method might be less popular, he reckoned.

A consumer felt the State Health Department should carry out a thorough investiga-tion to put the public at ease.

“I have heard about it several times but have yet to see it done,” admitted the consumer.

He pointed out that the public had the right to know whether or not all these talks were true, and hoped the health department would investigate and inform the public of the outcome.

“The results should be interesting,” he said.

A member of the public, who wished to be known as Elizabeth, said she saw her favourite fried chicken stall in Kuala Lumpur using raffia strings.

“One time, I saw a raffia string floating in the wok. I didn’t think much about it at that time because I thought it might have accidentally fallen in.”

“On my next trip to the stall, I again saw the same thing. This time, I also noticed a few unused raffia strings on the stall’s shelf. This made me think as I remembered my mum telling me about people using plastic to make fried foods crisper,” she added.

It was only then it dawned on her that her favourite stall could have been using raffia strings to make drumsticks super crunchy.

“I asked the operator why she was keeping the raffia strings. She said ‘nothing.’ After that, I stopped going there, and ate less fried food outside. Come to think of it, I should have listened to my mother long ago,” Elizabeth said.

A part-time banana fritter seller said she too had heard about the rumours from her customers.

“I was surprised when some customers asked if we used plastic because they too had heard of such claims. One said a relative died of cancer after eating too many banana fritters over the years.

“That customer suspected her relative might have died after eating banana fritters cooked with plastic-contaminated oil,” she said.

The part-time seller disclosed she only used wheat and rice flour and normally, the crispness of her fritters lasted about one hour.

“Banana fritters are usually crispy when they are still warm, but once cold, they will go soft or lose their crispness.”

She said nowadays, consumers were more health-conscious and would only buy food from people they knew.

Meanwhile, KFC Sarawak marketing manager Kenneth Lim said his company had very strict quality control and used special ingredients to prepare its foods, particularly crispy fried chicken.

“No, we don’t do it (putting plastic in oil). We have very high quality assurance (QA) to maintain our products.

“I believe this is all speculation but hopefully, it is not practised here.”

He pointed out that the secret to the quality of KFC products lay with seven special herbs and spices.

“Our products are pressure-fried in boiling hot oil and we use special equipment. Our products have crispy skin and before breaking them into smaller pieces, you can smell the aroma of the nice herbs.”

Lim added that to maintain QA, KFC had its own internal control for all cooked foods.

“Different cooked foods have different holding time. Once the holding time is surpassed, we will discard the foods. We don’t allow our staff to take foods home after the holding time — neither do we give them to a second party to resell.”

With most hawkers tight-lipped about their recipes and the authorities sitting tight, there is no way to know whether all the “plastic in food” allegations are fact or myth.

So to eat or not to eat? The choice is yours.

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4 thoughts on “Gullibility”

  1. thanks for sharing this. I have the same concern over mass-email. I just have a hard time to understand why some people can easily forward everything that comes to inbox without ever trying to thing for a second whether it’s logic or not.

  2. With all this words and stories about the facts that these hawkers fry their food by adding plastics straws and bottles into the frying pot, where did u get these facts about it? Where are the prove? Not only one that speaks but also some other people that gets this news which i find it from your post here is exactly the same. I read all of your post, but i couldn’t find any links that shows more efficient prove to all this facts. If you says that this hawkers sells their food is something that could cause danger to health, then it should be starting to spread the news in the newspaper in worldwide and television news. However, i didn’t see any news yet to be reported.

  3. Dear “Unknown-Vicious”,

    It seems to be that you have problems understanding and writing English. Otherwise, you should be able to conclude from my post that I am of the view that the story circulating the Internet about hawkers adding plastic objects into their frying pans, is a hoax.

    The story is so illogical that I don’t see what further PROOF is needed. In addition, a great part of my posting was from another site, of which I have cited the reference above.

    Duh.

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