Juhu food vendors revert back to violating safety norms

Pathetic and pathogenic: the two words capture the state of chow at Juhu Chowpatty.

Just for show: Workers at stalls were all masked and ready for the FDA inspectors. Pics/Kiran Bhalerao

Food vendors at the packed and popular chowpatty, who are required by law, and civic sense, to wear hygiene equipment like gloves seem to have scarce regard for such niceties. And the FDA is doing precious little to ensure that they do -- more little than precious.

Gloves are off: Workers were more ‘hands-on’ this time around. Pics/Nimesh Dave

On June 19, the Food and Drug Administration inspected Juhu Chowpatty to check whether stalls were complying with food safety norms while cooking and serving. Conveniently, they were on the day. But fast-forward to a month, and all those ‘precautions’ the vendors had taken seem to have been pretensions, since caps, gloves et al were all but missing when MiD DAY ran a spot check this past week.¬†

The disregard for public health is worrying, specially during monsoon, when people are vulnerable to germs from countless sources in a city that is strewn with rubbish heaps on its cleanest day.

Day 1: July 13, Saturday
Food handlers and workers were not wearing hand gloves while making and serving food. Pani puri vendors were dousing the puris into the lentils barehanded. In many stalls, food was kept uncovered. None of the vendors or cooks had their mouths covered while cooking.

Day 2: July 18, Thursday
Some vendors took the effort of donning some headgear and aprons. But the gloves were still off, and the mouths uncovered while cooking and serving.

Day 3: July 19, Friday
The same story. Some wore head caps and aprons. No gloves, no masks. And as if the grubby hands were not doing enough damage, the food spread was laid out uncovered, attracting the many monsoon creatures. Raw material like vermicelli, used for making falooda and gola, was also lying in the open.

MiD DAY set out on a covert operation at the chowpatty to see if food safety regulations were being followed, and the scene was disillusioning. From mixing chaat, dipping panipuris, dicing vegetables to making ice-lolly, everything was being done without the customary gloves on. It was clear that hygiene was not the first concern for beachside vendors, despite the guidelines issued by FDA under the Food Safety and Standards Act two years ago.

Importantly, since the shops were duly complying with norms at the time of the FDA inspections, it raises the question whether the food watchdog’s “surprise checks” -- which is what they ideally should be -- are even mildly surprising for the vendors. In that case, how effective can they be to check the unclean habits of food handlers?

Since the stalls open shop mainly in the evening, we went to the Juhu Chowpatty between 5.30 pm and 7 pm, when business was brisk and a bunch of orders came one after the other. Here’s what our findings reveal.

FDA’s defence
Commenting on the neglect, FDA assistant commissioner SV Mulay, who headed the June 19 inspection drive at the chowpatty, said, “We are repeatedly telling them the importance of following the norms. But it will take time to change their habits. It seems we will have to increase the frequency of our drives and check more regularly if they are complying with the norms. If we find food vendors are flouting norms repeatedly they will be fined according to Section 69 of the Food Safety and Standards Act.”

Vendors’ excuses
This reporter informed Ramchandra Shivram Kadam, secretary of Juhu Beach Khadya Peey Vikreta Sahakari Society Ltd, that MiD DAY had been conducting a secret check of food stalls for three days and found many workers to be violating safety norms.

In response, he said, “The society tries its best to make them follow the norms. But sometimes these people end up making mistakes. From now, I will ensure that everyone wears gloves, caps and aprons. We will not give you another opportunity to find workers without the safety gear on.”

Stall owners whose workers were caught tried to wriggle out of the accusations with awkward excuses. Some of them ordered their workers to wear the safety gear to avoid being questioned.

Others pledged that they’d stick to a more salubrious conduct.

G P Sharma, in-charge of Santosh Bhelpuri and Chat Centre, said, “It will not happen in the future. From tomorrow, I’ll make sure that the workers in my stall follow the rules.”

From the rulebook
Schedule 4, part I (A) of Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011 stipulates the hygiene requirements for street food vendors. It states: “Persons cooking, handling or serving food should use hand gloves and aprons where necessary. They shall wear headgear and cover their mouth while at work.”

Officials said that a food stall owner would be imprisoned only if any food sample taken from his shop is found to be unsafe for human consumption after being tested by the FDA.

Fines are levied depending on the yearly profits of the stall, with a ceiling of Rs 1 lakh. The fine may be Rs 10,000 or more depending on the severity of the offence and paying ability of the offender.

Strict action, more checks, say chowpatty visitors

There is no use of FDA visiting the food stalls once in a blue moon. They should show up at the stalls every week and it should be a surprise visit.
-- Uroosa Patrawala, Andheri

I am a regular visitor to Juhu beach and most stalls have poor sense of cleanliness. Strict action is the solution. An FDA functionary should be present at the place so that they can catch hold of offenders.
-- Dimple Bhavsar, Borivli

Since Juhu Chowpatty is a hotspot not only for Mumbaikars but tourists from all over India, the FDA should carry out more surprise checks and those flouting norms should be fined. After all, people’s health is at stake.
-- Vinod Talreja, Nerul 

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