Thursday, November 17, 2011


Eating out is a necessity modern families face because of the ever decreasing spare time available for carrying out elaborate cooking at home every day due to the pressure of the job that provides them with the economic muscle to live comfortably. Progressive reduction in the kitchen size in modern homes, especially apartments reflects this reality as new home makers realize the relatively lesser role for kitchens where the house wife is unlikely to spend as much time as those from earlier generations. Hotel industry and the food processing industry are the two "friends" for millions of middle class families world over and it is the primary responsibility of the governments to ensure that products and services provided by them are safe and reasonable from nutritional angle. It is this civic responsibility that necessitates establishment of adequate infrastructure in all countries to monitor and enforce hygiene and sanitation in all eateries, big or small where people gather for relaxed eating, enjoyment and relief from the monotonous chores of cooking at home. a few days a month. Though mandatory regulations exist in statute books, enforcement suffers because of many deficiencies in the system. Recently Colombo city in Sri Lanka was in the news for its unique initiative in improving the standards of eateries in there. The efforts, if sustained are praiseworthy and deserve to be emulated by other civic bodies, especially in the developing world.

"An independent team of doctors, food inspectors, medical lab technologists and PHI's are currently on an investigative mission on star class hotels in the Colombo city to ensure the food they serve is safe and free from health risks. The team of three doctors, four food inspectors and three medical lab technologists that commenced their unannounced 'visits' to hotels around the city early this month, have already hauled five star class hotels to court , Dr. Pradeep Kariyawasam, Chief Medical Officer, Colombo Municipal Council ( CMC) who appointed the team told The Nation, in an exclusive interview. "The charges varied from unhygienic food, unsanitary kitchens, outdated food in their stores to poor hygiene on the part of their food handlers", he said. "We have filed action against them under the Food Act of No 26, 1980. They will be fined Rs. 5,000 each and be given a suspended prison sentence as well." He said that raids of this nature were also being conducted in restaurants around the city. "This month alone we have filed cases against more than 30 restaurants for serving food in unsanitary conditions. Some of these food outlets are unlicensed. If they continue to operate without a license, we will have to go to courts again and get a closure order," he said. The team has been authorised to visit these hotels and restaurants at a chosen time and day. "They are expected to check the state of the kitchens, the stores, take samples of the food, check on the food handlers and if found wanting, initiate legal action on their own. They don't have to report to me, as they are an independent group. I have instructed them to do this regularly every month, preferably once a week, instead of just once or twice a year as the CMC used to do in the past," he said. Meanwhile the CMC is also coming down hard on errant wayside food stalls and lunch packet vendors selling food unfit for human consumption. Over 90- percent of lunch packets sold in boutiques and makeshift stalls on the roads have been found to be spoilt by 2 pm due to their being cooked very early in the morning and left exposed to the sun for over eight hours, a survey by the CMC revealed. Dr. Kariyawasam said that 140 lunch packet vendors were now registered with the CMC. "But they have to come to our premises daily to show us samples of their packets, as we are unable to go to them, since we are very short of staff - with just 33 Food Inspectors and four PHIs to test their food. Mobile food vendors must also get prior permission from the CMC to sell their food and park their vehicles only at suitable places approved by us and the Police. All vendors selling contaminated food packets will also be fined and have to face jail sentences", he warned"

During the last Common Wealth Games ( CWG) at Delhi the so called Food Authority in India announced a grandiose plan to monitor the sanitation and hygiene quality of eateries which became "history" like the CWG itself with nothing happening concretely. A private quality service player also announced its plans to introduce a mobile laboratory to "help" hoteliers to maintain food quality and safety by going to the location and analyzing the foods served by them. This also fizzled out leaving the catering industry to self regulation which all know can never happen! The conditions of eateries in many towns and cities are pathetic when it comes to catering whether in star hotels, smaller restaurants or street vending with practically no regular steps taken to discipline this sector. The infrastructure and technical personnel required are grossly inadequate with some places having these facilities only on paper! When is India going to wake up from this "deep slumber" and ensure that its citizens are provided with some modicum of safety from the unregulated and unrepentant catering industry? If this is not governance deficit of a serious nature what else it could be?


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