mid-day editorial: Time for FDA to step up to the plate

It was a disaster of gastronomic proportions at the Indian International Model United Nations (IIMUN) conference last week, where 300-400 participating school kids took ill after eating the lunch served by a popular eatery. There was a Food and Drug Administration (FDA) raid on the restaurant and found the kitchen was filthy and was operating in violation of food safety norms.

The FDA now needs to look at the larger picture and crack down on all such food establishments. Mumbai’s foodscape is booming; every month, we have a new food delivery service launching, home chefs are mushrooming everywhere and a lot of them are retailing through aggregator sites. All these new entrants are jostling for a piece of the foodie pie. Reports state that the current size of the Indian food industry stands at R2,47,680 crore per annum and is expected to grow at 11 per cent to touch a staggering R4,08,040 crore by 2018, stated the National Restaurant Association (NRAI) of India in a 2013 report. The report also cites an increased presence of delivery and take-away formats, with consumers now increasingly using social media, food websites and mobile applications to order food.

There must be regular surprise checks by FDA to keep these establishments on their toes. Kitchens need to adhere to a minimum hygiene level. Staff members should wear caps, gloves and maintain high standards of cleanliness. Storage of food material also need to be monitored. There have to be certain guidelines when it comes to food packaging and what must be printed on the labels, including warnings for consumers. These need to be clearly spelt out. With a boom in the delivery segment, even the mode of delivery and the time it takes to bring the food to the consumer need to be studied. Strict punitive action, including huge fines, suspension or confiscation of licence must be put in place if hygiene is compromised at any stage. It’s time for the FDA to gear up and tackle the challenge of the new contours of the food industry.

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