Thiruvananthapuram: During the last several months, the City Corporation’s food squad has not carried out a single checking in city hotels. That it is a toothless tiger when it comes to reining in faulty food joints being the main reason. The death of Sachin Roy Mathew, a hotel management student, in Bangalore allegedly after consuming ‘shawarma’ from Salwa Cafe, a food joint in Vazhuthacaud, naturally points to the limitations the local body faces in ensuring food safety.
Since the start of this year, to be precise after the Food Safety and Standards Regulations-2011 were notified by the Central Government in December 2011, the local body has only a namesake role in checking the sales of stale food sold in eateries. A circular issued by the Office of the Commissioner of Food Safety, Kerala, in June 26, 2012 has asked the Health Officers (HOs) and Health Inspectors (HIs) in local bodies to restrain from conducting food checking in hotels without permission.
Earlier, the City Corporation had three rules to base its squad activities - the Kerala Municipality Acts and Rules (KMAR), Public Health Act and Prevention of Food Adulteration Act. The third one was abolished when the Food Safety and Standards Regulations came into effect.
Before 2005, the Health Officer in a local body was the responsible authority to check food sales. The onus was shifted to the District Food Inspectors after 2005. Later, with the coming of Food Safety and Standards Regulations, a separate agency was mooted for food safety measures. The main argument being that multiple agencies involved in ensuring food safety were diluting the efforts.
Following which, the district officers of the Food Safety Commission were entrusted with the role of carrying out the operations in hotels. However, the functioning of the district machinery is yet to pick up momentum and it has not taken up the responsibilities. “The office of Commissioner of Food Safety was formed just a year ago. Staff shortage and other issues are affecting the day to day working,” said D Sivakumar, chief food safety officer.
The mobile vigilance squad has not begun its routine checking and the authorities do not have a count of the number of hotels working without licence in the city. With the HOs and HIs also asked to keep away from taking out squads, the meagre power left with the local body is what it gains from the KMAR.
‘’KMAR is a wide Act and not one for food safety, so there are limitations. When a Corporation carries out a checking and seizes food, it is largely a subjective measure depending mainly on the official who leads the squad. The new regulations focus on sampling. The samples are sent to labs and the result is collected, which makes it more authentic,’’ said Corporation Health Officer D Sreekumar.
Under KMAR, even if the local body succeeds in taking a food joint to the court, the maximum punishment would be a fine not exceeding Rs 2,000. There are no possibilities of an imprisonment. However, under the new rules, the faulty hotel could be asked to pay lakhs of rupees as fine and its owner jailed. Also, among the licences for food and hotel which used to be issued by the Corporation earlier, the local body has been stripped off the former. It now has the power to grant licence for the shop (it could be hotel, a hardware store or a fancy shop) only and not for food, which is issued by the office of the Commissioner of Food Safety.
The health officials said that whether the hotel at Vazhuthacaud was functioning with a licence would be checked and action taken.
5 restaurants closed down
T’Puram: Food Safety officials on Tuesday closed down five restaurants in the city citing unhygienic conditions. Chief Food Safety Inspector D Sivakumar said that the restaurants, Devi, Meena and Lakshmi, near the General Hospital, and two smaller eateries on the Chalakuzhi lane near the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, were shut following inspections.
‘’We inspected 15 restaurants across the city, and many were found to be functioning in unhygienic conditions,’’ Sivakumar said. More inspections are expected in the days ahead.