The death of two persons from apparent milk tea poisoning has cast doubt on the safety of the country’s food and beverage industry and this may lead to the demise of the once booming milk tea business.
On April 9, three people were rushed to the Ospital ng Sampaloc after drinking chilled Hokaidou milk tea at the Ergo Cha, a roadside stall in Sampaloc, Manila. Two of them died—Suzanne Dagohoy, 28 and William Abrigo, 57, owner of the milk tea store.
Dagohoy’s boyfriend, Arnold Aydalla, 34, collapsed after taking a sip of the milk tea but he survived.
The Department of Health said the incident was an “isolated case” but this served little to assure the public that it is safe to drink milk tea. Health Secretary Janette Garin had said initial tests of the milk tea sample proved negative for toxic chemicals.
Manila Vice Mayor Isko Moreno made rounds of milk tea stalls as well as other food and beverage establishments in Manila to ensure that these establishments are complying with health and food safety regulations.
But while authorities scrambled to rescue the milk tea stall businesses from the stigma generated by the deaths in Sampaloc, customers have started avoiding the beverage.
“Our sales are down 60 percent since the reports on the milk tea deaths,” Lourdes Deyto, a retiree who owns four stalls selling ChDo, one of several milk tea brands, told The Manila Times.
Deyto, who had been selling ChDo milk tea since 2012, bewailed that a franchise business with strict safety standards can suffer from an apparent lapse.
“The milk tea that is purchased from the stalls, at least in our case, is made from actual tea leaves that we boil ourselves, after that, we add sugar, flavoring and other ingredients that are pre-packed by the franchise operator and adjusted to the taste of the customer,” she explained.
TJ Bagadion, who had used her savings to put up a ChDo franchising business, said sales across their several dozen outlets are also reeling from the poisoning reports.
The milk tea beverage franchising business made a big splash when it entered the Philippine market in 2005 from Taiwan. The product is similar, but different from the pearl shake drinks that also use tapioca pearls, commonly known in the Philippines as “sago.”
It caught on with the Filipinos’ love for cold drinks especially during the hot summer months.
Bagadion said when milk tea entered the market, they thought the fad would not last.
But she noted that it would reach a point where people would die.
“I am now contemplating selling the shop, in case anyone is interested in buying it,” she said.