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Scrutiny
 
FOOD SAFETY & HYGIENE: RESTAURANTS
Eat out at your risk!
India needs to urgently enforce mechanisms to keep the dirt out of our food joints. As in the US, the Indian government should publicly rank restaurants on their hygiene and cleanliness quotient
Issue Date - 16/02/2012
 
In April 2011, the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation issued a notice to Prasang Restaurant, where the food was found to be contaminated. Similarly, during a raid on a five-star hotel in Chandigarh, food was found to be stored in unhygienic conditions and eatables were being placed near the dustbins. Cases in Indian hotels and restaurants, both small and large, of food contamination and non-adherence to best practices in hygiene are coming to the fore in quite alarming proportions.

According to the National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI), a restaurant in India needs to have a health licence from the local Municipal Authority along with other documents, which are related to registration and safety. The official website of NRAI, however, hardly makes a mention about licenses pertaining to food safety and cleanliness. The only license that is required, beside operational licenses is a Health License. But then no rule compels these restaurants to display this license. Besides local Municipal Corporations, only Section 4 of the RTI Act can be evoked for ascertaining the food safety conditions of a restaurant [Interestingly, most of these guidelines were not available on the website & were obtained after several phone calls]. The situation looks more dire when you consider the lack of staff in the food inspection departments at places like Nagpur (until 2011) and Kolkata, as per reports. A closer scrutiny could reveal more such shocking ‘oversights’.

The matter should receive much more attention than it does, as is the case in some of the developed markets. A New York Times article published in January 2012 reveals, “In the last fiscal year (2011), 1,504 restaurants [in New York] were forced to close their doors at some point after failing an inspection for rodents and cockroaches; with 18,384 fines issued because of mice, a 35% jump from 2010. The city’s 311 telephone system receives about 1,000 complaints about restaurant odours each year from tenants... Health inspectors assign letter grades of A, B or C to a restaurant, which can be found along with violations at the New York City’s government website.”

In a recent move, President Obama has signed a national level federal legislation regarding food served in restaurants. Food & Drug Administration in US provides a set of guidelines and procedures describing the minimum permissible level of hygiene at retail food chains and eating joints. In Britain, the UK Food Standards Agency has laid down recommendations as part of Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HACCP). Australian Food Authority has introduced an innovative measure for maintaining hygiene in restaurants in the form of food safety training, which at least one person from each restaurant has to undertake. The ratings of restaurants in Europe and US are demonstrated by various notations like points, stars or diamonds and need to be displayed prominently. The People’s UK Restaurant Guide uses public reviews, while Gault Millau (France’s most influential health restaurant guide) gives ratings through inspector visits.

For starters, the Indian Health Ministry and Food and Drug Association should make it mandatory for restaurants to display their grading and cleanliness certificates at the door and reception areas.

The International Organization for Standardization’s (ISO) guidelines should be made mandatory for restaurants. The ISO 22000:2005 standard is awarded to companies that meet global food safety regulations. Restaurants should be made to get these certificates renewed annually from authorised agencies and inspectors should be bestowed with more power, including authority to conduct surprise raids & seal restaurants, if required.

And of course, in case restaurants fail to meet these standards or fail any surprise tests, they should be simply closed down without much ado!

 

Sray Agarwal           

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