Monday, November 26, 2012


There are two ways to make food industry behave in a style that will ensure safety and well being of consumers. One is to impose through harsh measures safety standards by putting in place well reasoned and technically feasible measures which all manufacturers are bound to abide by. Another option is to persuade the industry to exercise voluntary restraints on practices that can adversely impinge on consumer health. In most Western countries a combination of the above two approaches is in vogue. However past experiences show that voluntary restraint based model guidelines do not work very satisfactorily with some segment of the industry not following the guidelines and progress is relatively slow. Many impartial observers believe that the self constraint mode can be made more effective if appropriate incentives are provided to the industry for bettering their performance. One such incentive involves providing recognition of good performers through friendly competition which hopefully will motivate others to further their efforts to match the leaders. Here is an example of such a system that seems to be working in California, USA.

"Few things can spoil an evening like finding a hair in your pasta, a roach swimming around in your soup or that awful feeling in your gut when you realize something was wrong with the pork chops you just ate. On Tuesday, the Tulane County Board of Supervisors will honor more than 90 restaurants and other food vendors that have done better jobs than most of ensuring their food is stored, handled and prepared in ways that meet state health and safety standards. All will receive Excellence in Food Safety Awards as part of a program started in 2010 by the California Restaurant Association's Central Valley Chapter. The awards go to food businesses that score 95 percent or higher on at least three consecutive county food business health inspections. The winners range from restaurants to markets to a hotel".

Restaurants, besides providing nice tasting food preparations, offer a change for millions of people from their routine chores and the ambiance that exists in many eating establishments is stimulating and relaxing. Eating out is a phenomenon that is becoming an integral part of the modern life and in many countries such foods make up as much as 15-25% of the food consumed. If this trend is recognized, food safety authorities will have to increase vigilance to safeguard the health of the consumers through frequent inspections and deterrent action to ensure that preparations are made under strict hygienic and sanitary conditions. But in a country like India it is easier said than done as the infrastructure and personnel for inspection of facilities and testing restaurant foods are grossly inadequate. A voluntary scheme by the catering industry association in each area to promote safety of the foods by  its members through a systematic inspection and grading has the potential to augment the efforts of mandated authorities. Government must encourage such voluntary efforts through helping the association by providing grants for setting up facilities for simple testing and training for frequent assessment of the the catering environment. It should even be possible to institute a program for the customers to express their opinion about the cleanliness and other safety parameters through a well structured system which can help the association to factor them into eventual grading or awarding marks on a sound measuring scale. 


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