A Porky Problem? African Swine Fever and You

A Porky Problem? African Swine Fever and You

 April 25, 2022   Return

WORDS Rachel Soon

With the approach of the 2020 Lunar New Year, Chinese  families everywhere are gearing up for a time of feasting and reunion. For many, a key ingredient featured each year on the dinner table is none other than the humble bit (or generous slab) of pork. However, with news headlines highlighting an alarming new disease called African Swine Fever, and the government banning the import of pork products from numerous countries, one might ask: is our pork safe? Should we worry about eating it? Here are some facts to help clear up the issues.

What is African swine fever (ASF)?

ASF is a fast-spreading and usually fatal disease in wild and domestic pigs caused by the African swine fever virus. Depending on how severe the infection is and the type/ species of pig infected, ASF symptoms range from weight loss, intermittent fevers, respiratory issues, and skin ulcers (chronic/ subacute ASF) to high fever, loss of appetite, internal bleeding, vomiting, bloody diarrhoea, and death within 6–20 days (acute ASF).1

With mortality rates ranging from 30% to 100%, ASF epidemics have devastated whole populations of domestic pigs across the world. The first known outbreak was described in Kenya in 1921 while the first European case was detected in Portugal in 1957.

Since then the virus has gradually spread to other European countries. Although the first cases in Asia only emerged in 2018, it has spread rapidly to more than 10% of pigs in China, Vietnam and Mongolia, with over 5 million culled to try and stop its advance.2

Sounds terrible! Can ASF hurt me?

The good news is: Not at all! Humans can’t catch ASF, and handling and eating pork from infected pigs has no effect on the human body. According to the World Health Organization, the ASF virus is non-zoonotic, meaning it can’t jump from animals to humans.3

But isn’t ASF the same as swine flu?

ASF is not the same as swine flu! Swine flu is a different disease with a different cause and different risks (see table below for a brief comparison).

African swine fever versus swine flu

African swine fever1Swine flu4
Caused by a unique virus family, Asfarviridae, with no similar “relatives” that affect humans.Caused by strains of influenza viruses (eg, H1N1, H3N2) very similar to strains that cause flu in humans and birds.
Has not infected humans since discovery in 1921.Original pig-specific strains rarely infect humans, but can crossover with human/ bird strains to create human-infectious strains; involved in some human flu pandemics between 1918 and 2009.
High death rate in animals (30%-100%).Low death rate in animals (1%-4%).
Can be transmitted through pork products.Can’t be transmitted through pork products.


If it doesn’t affect us, why fuss about infected pork?

Because while the virus can’t infect us, it can hurt our local pigs if it becomes a resident of our country. Malaysia’s farms and forests are currently ASF-virus-free places, but like many countries that used to be free of the virus, that could easily change.

The ASF virus can infect wild pigs and blood-feeding insects (eg, ticks, mosquitoes) without causing any symptoms, making them act as disease reservoirs. This means that once the virus has spread among a country’s wildlife, it can be difficult to drive it out.1

The ASF virus is also a tough cookie. Not only can it remain infectious for up to 1,000 days in frozen raw meat and between 30 to 400 days in dry-cured pork, it can survive heat up to 56°C for over an hour.5

Many dried, frozen and cured pork products are not prepared at extreme enough temperatures to destroy every trace of the virus from the meat; ASF virus traces have been found in imported suckling pigs, frozen pork dumplings, frozen meatballs, and canned luncheon meat.6-8


Migrating wild pigs can carry the ASF virus across borders.

But surely it’s okay if I’m eating it and not the pigs?

Waste human food—kitchen scraps, uneaten leftovers—is one route the virus has been known to spread, as some small farms use it in pig feed, while in some places wild animals have access to the waste we throw out. While you may not personally live anywhere near any pigs, wild or domestic, a blanket ban on potentially infected pork products is the safest measure that can be taken, as there’s no telling where in the country a single can of infected meat can end up.5

What should I do about all this?

As of mid-December 2019, the Malaysian government has placed an embargo on pork products from China, Poland, Belgium, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Hong Kong, Myanmar, Laos, and South Korea. Indonesia was recently added given with recent reports of over 30,000 pigs affected in North Sumatra.9,10,11 However, despite this, it’s possible to still find banned pork in local stores and restaurants.12

As responsible consumers, what we can do is look out for and avoid buying or consuming pork products from embargoed countries. Check the labels of pork products for their country of origin and ask retailers where the pork you’re buying comes from. Avoid bringing back pork products from affected countries on your holidays.

On the plus side, Malaysian pork is still very much ASF-free, according to the Department of Veterinary Services, so feel free to enjoy local pork this Chinese New Year with peace of mind!

Found some questionable pork products? You can report them to the Department of Veterinary Services (Jabatan Perkhidmatan Veterinar) via phone at 03-8870 2000 or email at pro@dvs.gov.my.


References: 1. World Organisation for Animal Health. Information on aquatic and terrestrial animal diseases: African Swine Fever. Retrieved from https://www.oie.int/en/animal-health-in-the-world/animal-diseases/african-swine-fever. 2. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. One year on, close to 5 million pigs lost to Asia’s swine fever outbreak. Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/1204563/icode. 3. World Health Organization. Global Early Warning System for Major Animal Diseases, including Zoonoses (GLEWS). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/zoonoses/outbreaks/glews/en/index2.html. 4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Information on Swine/Variant Influenza. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/swineflu. 5. Mazur-Panasiuk, N., et al. (2019). African Swine Fever Virus – Persistence in Different Environmental Conditions and the Possibility of its Indirect Transmission. J Vet Res;63(3):303–310. 6. South China Morning Post. African swine fever found in Chinese frozen pork dumplings, but you can still buy them. Retrieved from https://www.scmp.com/news/china/society/article/2186535/african-swine-fever-found-chinese-frozen-pork-dumplings-you-can. 7. The Star Online. Sarawak bans all pork products from China. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/10/28/sarawak-bans-all-pork-products-from-china. 8. The Sun Daily. Restaurants found serving African swine fever-hit pork products. Retrieved from https://www.thesundaily.my/local/restaurants-found-serving-african-swine-fever-hit-pork-products-BF1564322. 9. The Star Online. Task force to tackle imported pork product issue from AFS-infected countries. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/10/31/task-force-to-tackle-imported-pork-product-issue-from-afs-infected-countries. 10. The Star Online. Govt bans pork products from Indonesia. Retrieved from https://www.thestar.com.my/news/nation/2019/12/15/govt-bans-pork-products-from-indonesia. 11. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). African swine fever: Fears rise as virus spreads to Indonesia. https://www.bbc.com/news/business-50833054. 12. World of Buzz. Report: Shops in Malaysia Still Selling Imported Pork Products Banned for African Swine Fever. Retrieved from https://www.worldofbuzz.com/report-shops-in-malaysia-still-selling-imported-pork-products-banned-for-african-swine-fever.

Care To Tango, My Dear Mango?

Luscious Lips For The Holidays

 April 25, 2022   Return


So, how did you like my rhyme in the title? Was it as funny for me as it was for you? Guess not. Well, this month we’ll be looking at a common, but well-loved fruit—the mango. The delicious and fragrant fruit has been incorporated into our daily diet and can be found in lassi (a blend of yoghurt, water, and spices), glutinous rice dessert, ice cream, cake, jelly, pickle, salad, curry, and various other food items.


Mango or its scientific name Mangifera indica, is one fruit which has made its way across the globe and is universally known. The ubiquitous mango originates from South Asia, India and Burma (modern day Myanmar), and spread from there. Early European explorers to India anglicized the local name mangay, and it evolved to become mango.1

As it originates from India, the country considers mango to be its national fruit. There, it is known as their King of Fruits (I think it is because those poor, unfortunate souls don’t have access to durian). Buddhist monks are thought to have brought the fruit along when they spread Buddhism to China and the Southeast Asian region at around 400 B.C. As they’ve had a head start in mango cultivation, it comes as no surprise that India is the world’s largest producer of mangoes, accounting for 50% of all the mangoes produced in the world.3


Here’s a little trivia for you. It’s easy to tell the age of a housing area by looking at the presence and height of mango trees. Back when Petaling Jaya was being established as the new satellite town for Kuala Lumpur, mango trees were all the rage and many homes had one planted. In fact, one can tell the age of a housing area from the number and height of its mango trees. These tend to be grown from seed and the quality of the fruits are usually decent, with the trees bearing less tasty fruits having been chopped off earlier.

In recent times, newer homes with smaller lawns and people moving into high rise housing has meant a reduction of big fruit trees being planted in new housing estates. Instead, ornamental palms and smaller shrubs have taken the space of our once common mango and other fruit trees. With these developments, the ubiquitous mango tree may soon be a thing of the past.


Mangoes are nutritious. A serving (about 165 g) contains 10% of your daily recommended fibre intake. The same serving will give you 100% of your daily recommended Vitamin C and 35% of the daily vitamin A intake. It will further contribute to 20% of your daily folate and 10% of the recommended daily vitamin B6 intake. For a fruit, it has a decent amount of trace copper, contributing 10% of the daily recommended intake.


The yellow colour of mango stems from zeaxanthin, which is the pigment also found in corn. This pigment is a natural antioxidant and collects in the retina of the eye. It helps in filtering out blue light emitted from our electronic devices and the sun, thus helping to delay or reduce age-related eyesight degeneration.4


Mangoes have anywhere from 33% to 103% of the recommended daily intake of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene is also known as pro-vitamin A and is converted in the body to vitamin A. Mango has one of the highest beta-carotene content in fruit but the amount is also dependent on the variety of mango. 5


Sounds like a spell phrase but these are phenolic compounds which function as antioxidants. Plant phenolic compounds are molecules produced by plants for various functions but in the human body, they can have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiageing properties.7 Again, depending on the variety, mangoes can have moderate phenolic content compared to blackberries. The mango with the highest phenolic content is Ataulfo, which hails from Mexico. Each kilogram of Ataulfo mango has about 1100 mg of phenolic content compared to blackberries, where each kg contains between 5,000 and 8,000 mg of phenolic content. This isn’t bad considering one doesn’t always think of mangoes being rich in antioxidants.5



Mango is related to poison ivy. The sap of the plant contains a chemical known as urushiol. This compound causes dermatitis or skin inflammation, and is easily absorbed by the skin or mucosal lining (the mouth) and causes your immune system to react, thus resulting in blisters and itch. Urushiol is a compound that can be found in some jungle plants such as Rengas, and it is also found in the skin of the cashew seed.



In Malaysia, the most famous variety is known as the Harumanis, which grows well in the state of Perlis. True to its namesake, the Harumanis is both fragrant and sweet. The fruit is deep yellow when cut but is already ripe even before the skin turns yellow. The aroma is strong when eaten. Traditionally, Harumanis is only available between April and May as it coincides with flowering months of December to February. This period of dryness triggers flowering of the mango trees. It is thought that the stress induces the plant to produce flowers, and thus fruits as they are afraid of dying.2

The price of Harumanis is quite high as far as mangoes go. The Federal Agricultural Marketing Authority (FAMA) has a recommended selling price and this year it is RM15 per kg as base price for the premium grade. However, the price is only a recommendation and independent farmers may sell at a higher or lower price depending on market demand. The demand for this fruit has been going up over the years, resulting in more farmers planting this lucrative fruit. However, a Perlis farmer suggested the fruits planted in other regions of the country lack the fragrance of those grown in Perlis. She surmises it could be the climate in Perlis which makes it perfect for the Harumanis to achieve its full potential. Thus, Harumanis from Perlis usually goes for the highest prices among all Harumanis.

Beyond the Harumanis, we have the golden, rather large Alphonso varieties grown predominantly in India and Pakistan. This variety is known as the ‘King of Mangoes’ but it may just be a marketing gimmick rather than fact. Alphonso is characterized by its light orange skin and fibreless pulp and smooth, creamy taste.

Some other varieties we often encounter are the Golden Lily, Red Irwin, Apple, MahaGolek, and more. With more than 200 varieties registered in the country and many more overseas, there are plenty to choose from.6


Irwin mango


Alphonso mango


Apple mango   


As usual, we always encourage our readers to try their hands on greening their house and improving the health of the earth. Planting mangoes is easy enough. It isn’t recommended for you to plant the seeds of mangoes you have eaten because the resulting tree will rarely have the same kind of fruit. It’s simply because the offspring plant has different genetic material than the parent.

What you need to do is identify your favourite variety and check out the plant nurseries or online shops. If they don’t have the variety of mango plant you want, you can always place an order and get them to call you once it arrives.

Mangoes need well-draining soil so if your soil is always waterlogged, then it’s not a suitable plant for your area. According to a farmer, the mango tree puts out new shoots and leaves twice a month. The new shoots and leaves are delicious to pests, so it is best to spray some pest repellent during this time to reduce the risk of damage to the tree.

With proper fertilization and watering, a grafted plant will start producing fruit anywhere from 3 to 5 years after you put it into the ground. The quality and taste of fruits improve with age so don’t be disappointed if the first harvest is poor tasting.

Mangoes need a lot of care as they need to be wrapped by the time they are 1–2 cm in diameter, or fruit flies will lay their eggs in the fruit and destroy the fruits from within as they mature. HT

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References: 1. American Academy of Dermatology. 7 Dermatologists’ Tips For Healing Dry, Chapped Lips. Retrieved from: https://www.aad.org/skin-care-basics/heal-dry-chapped-lips 2. Stylecraze. Care for Your Lips. Retrieved from: https://www.stylecraze.com/articles/care-for-your-lips/#gref

Can’t Motivate Yourself To Exercise? It’s Time To Eat Like A … Mouse!

Can’t Motivate Yourself To Exercise? It’s Time To Eat Like A ... Mouse!

 April 25, 2022   Return


A research team in Japan found that mice exercise more on the wheel when their mealtimes are restricted to a certain amount of time each day.


According to Dr Yuji Tajiri from the Kurume University School of Medicine, these mice were given food for a limited time twice a day. Compared to mice which were given unlimited access to food, they ran on the wheel more as a result. 

This could be due to the fact that hunger would boost the production of the hormone ghrelin, which was found in higher levels in the mice that were given limited access to food. This hormone may be involved  in the increased motivation to exercise.

Of course, mice and humans aren’t one and the same, and Dr Yuji believes that more research is necessary to support this finding.

However, if you need to lose weight and/or need that motivation to be more physically active, why not keep your mealtimes within a reasonable amount of time so that you don’t overeat, and avoid eating outside of those mealtimes? This may boost your efforts to stay active. Give it a try! HT

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Reference: Mifune, H., et al. (2019). Voluntary exercise is motivated by ghrelin, possibly related to the central reward circuit. Journal of Endocrinology. Retrieved from https://joe.bioscientifica.com/view/journals/joe/aop/joe-19-0213.xml

I Have A Pine. I Have An Apple. I Have A Pineapple!

I Have A Pine. I Have An Apple. I Have A Pineapple!

March 13, 2020   Return


Pineapples (Ananas comosus) are as synonymous with the tropics as coconuts are. Thanks to our classic movies such as Hawaii Five-O and Fantasy Island, the fruit is always seen as a must have in tropical settings. It can be bewildering to think how our ancestors decided to eat the fruit. Similar to the durian, it has spines and ‘eyes’ which are hard to remove. Our older folk may remember being forced by their parents to manually peel and remove the eyes in a spiral cutting motion. Nowadays, we can get them pre-cut at lunch places and supermarkets. As well as being delicious, pineapples contain a long list of nutrients and enzymes which are healthy for us.


What is a pineapple?

Well, guess what? The pineapple, as you may already know, isn’t related to the pine nor the apple. It is actually a type of bromeliad. Bromeliads are plants with thick waxy leaves that spread out in a bowl-like fashion and catch rainwater at the centre. They produce beautiful flowers that last a long time. The pineapple first took the leap into worldwide fame when Christopher Columbus brought the plant to Spain when he returned from the New World in 1493.

Nutrition-wise, the fruit may not be ranked as a ‘superfood’ by today’s standards but the utility of pineapple lies in its enzymes. Take a look at what a typical 100-g portion of pineapple contains. (Table 1)

The main component that contributes to the sweetness of pineapples is sucrose while the main acid component is citric and ascorbic acids.2 The table does not list vitamins, of which pineapple has loads of. It has vitamin C (in the form of ascorbic acid), thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pyridoxine, cobalamin, vitamin A, folate, and trace amounts of vitamin E.1

Table 1: Nutrition Facts— fight off oxidative stress.”Pineapple, raw, all varieties.

Serving Size: 100 g
Water [g]
Energy [kcal]
Protein [g]
Total lipid (fat) [g]
Carbohydrate, by difference [g]
Fibre, total dietary [g]
Sugars, total [g]
Calcium, Ca [mg]
Iron, Fe [mg]
Magnesium, Mg [mg]
Phosphorus, P [mg]
Potassium, K [mg]
Sodium, Na [mg]



Pineapples contain a lot of flavonoids, which help the body fight off oxidative stress. Vitamin C, another potent antioxidant and immune booster, is helpful in reducing the duration of illness by stimulating the immune system.3


Bromelain, a protein dissolving enzyme, is found mostly at the centre of the pineapple fruit. It is the same enzyme responsible for the itchy tongue and lips some people face when eating pineapples. The enzymes attack the skin in our tongue, cheek and lips thus causing it to hurt. Some sensitive folk may even develop ulcers. There’s really no way to avoid the enzymes if you want to eat fresh pineapple. Preserved pineapples, on the other hand, won’t have that effect as it has to be heated before being canned. The heating process destroys all the enzymes. Some people suggest soaking the pineapple in salt water to reduce the itchy effect. It is doubtful that salt does anything to the enzyme; instead, it is probably the water dissolving the enzymes and flushing it away. But don’t forget, you’re also flushing the water-soluble nutrients away.

Are you allergic to pineapple?

One thing to watch out for is genuine pineapple allergy. Some may mistake the pain and itching from pineapple as a reaction to the bromelain when in effect it could be allergy to the fruit.

Allergic reactions are usually more severe compared to normal reactions. You may have swelling or other symptoms such as sneezing or difficulty in breathing. If that happens, drop the pineapple and head to your nearest clinic.

Due to the bromelain and other enzymes, pineapples are a great aid for digestion. Many digestive enzyme tablets contain bromelain as one of the key components to help in reducing discomfort and bloating after meals.


Some pineapples may be fibrous if left to ripen for too long. Organic and vegan consumers are also resorting to fabric made from pineapple fibre. The source of the fibre comes from the entire plant, from the crown, leaf, stem, and even the fruit itself.4

Every 100 g of pineapple contains about 1.4 g of dietary fibre. This is by no means a large amount of fibre, so any improvement in bowel habit is due to the enzymes and juices of the fruit. The combined action of digestive enzymes and fibre in pineapple helps food to be properly digested as it travels through the gut.

Can I plant my own pineapples?

Unless you have a lot of space and patience, planting your own pineapple may be an exercise in futility. For one, it takes anywhere from 9 months to 2 years to mature, and only then will it flower and fruit.5 From the flower, a single fruit forms and this fruit takes about 6 months to grow to maturity. As the fruit juts out, birds, squirrels and bats will be eyeing it even before it fully ripens.

One good thing about the pineapple is that it is extremely hardy and even novice gardeners can’t really kill it. Belonging to the bromeliad family, the pineapple can absorb water through its leaves. It can also survive in a small pot as the root system is small and weak (because the leaves do a good job in sucking up water and preventing water loss). They do well with foliar fertilizers. One thing to watch out for when it comes to plants in the bromeliad group is their tendency to store water at the centre of the plant during the raining season. If you have only a few plants, then it may be worth checking them out periodically and pouring any excess water stored at its centre to prevent mosquitoes from breeding.

Pineapples are particularly choosy about the soil they grow in. In certain soils, they choose to grow leaves instead of flowers even when mature.In such an instance, you will need to induce flowering by chemical or physical means. Even then, it isn’t a foolproof method.

Pineapples, like bananas, only fruit once. Baby plantlets grow from the base of the plant and a new plant can be grown from the crown of each pineapple fruit. The local pineapple market is familiar with three main cultivars: Smooth Cayenne, Queen and Red Spanish. All local varieties are derived from these cultivars. The all-time favourite known as Nanas Sarawak is derived from the Red Spanish group. Nanas Sarawak can tip the scale at 2 to 4 kg for each fruit.

Most consumers are familiar with the Josephine variety, which is the result of a cross between the Nanas Johor and Nanas Sarawak. Nanas Maspine is derived from the Red Spanish cultivar and is about 1.8 kg when ripe.

The newer varieties such as the MD-2 are super sweet. However, a word of caution on all these super sweet new varieties—they aren’t exactly good for health. Already zoo animals are suffering from our continued obsession with breeding sweeter fruits and vegetables.6 If they are too sweet for animals who are active all day long, I’m guessing they are probably too sweet for us ie, mostly sedentary humans.

Just remember to ration our fruit intake and perhaps choose a variety which is less sweet but has higher fibre content. For the super sweet varieties, it is best to limit the intake for each sitting. Keep in mind that one serving size is 2 slices, 3” diameter, ¾” thick, and weighs 112 g.7 Most of all, don’t forget to appreciate our pineapple farmers! It’s hard work to grow pineapples. HT

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References: 1. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Pineapple, raw, all varieties. Retrieved from https://fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/169124/nutrients.2. Lu, X.H., et al. (2014). Physico-chemicalproperties, antioxidant activity and mineral
contents of pineapple genotypes grown in China. Molecules.;19(6):8518–8532. 3. Nagy, S. (1980). Vitamin C contents of citrus fruit and their products: a review. J Agric Food Chem.;28(1):8–18. 4. SFGate. The Dietary Fiber in Raw Pineapple. Retrieved from https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/dietary-fiber-rawpineapple-4875.html. 5. SFGate. What Is theLife Cycle of a Pineapple Plant? Retrievedfromhttps://homeguides.sfgate.com/life-cyclepineapple-plant-58192.html. 6.The Sydney Morning Herald. Zoo won’t panda to taste, says fruit’s too sweet for its monkey menu.Retrieved from https://www.smh.com.au/national/zoo-won-t-panda-to-taste-says-fruits-too-sweet-for-its-monkey-menu-20180928-p506lb.html. 7. U.S. FDA. Fruits: NutritionFacts. Retrieved from https://www.fda.gov/media/76508/download.