Your street food just got healthy

In a bid to raise hygiene standards, Health Ministry asks FDA to issue licences to roadside vendors as well as upscale eateries, if they meet its benchmark of cleanliness

In a move that will bring the food vendor at the corner of your street at par with five star hotels, and all categories of diners in between, the Centre has decided to issue them licences, provided they meet its yardstick of hygiene.

file pic for representation

As a recent notification issued by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare states, the state Food and Drug Administration (FDA) will now be the authority to issue licences to all eateries across the state -- be it the neighborhood chaat wallah or the posh seaside hotel, all will have to, and have the right to, get registered with the FDA.

The catch lies in the fact that they will have to hold fast to international standards of hygiene (see box). Until now, you had only beheld this measure of sanitation at malls and high-end diners, but it may just seep through to Mumbai's streets. 

The notification states that under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the FSAS Authority Of India will issue a new licence under the name of Food Safety and Standards (licensing and registration of food business) Regulations, 2011. From a chai tapri to an Udipi restaurateur, every food trader will have to obtain the licence, after, of course, tackling the hygiene rider, which is a big deal in this country, officials said.

The move, seen to be a leveller by some and biased by others, has far-reaching ramifications for different stakeholders.

The foremost is that your pani puri wallah will now be legalised, given they meet the sanitation standards (see box).

As of now, lakhs of vendors in the city are running illegally. But under the amended FSAS Act, their business will sail smoothly after registry.

Conflicting laws
The Central law, however, clashes with the bye-law here: While the BMC does not issue licences to street vendors, the FSAS Act has permitted them to get registered with the FDA. Incidentally, only 350 vendors in the city have the BMC permits to function. 

Anil Bandiwadekar, BMC's executive health officer, said, "There is confusion over the entire law, which we are trying to clarify. As far as sampling of food and food safety is concerned, it is the FDA that will be authorised to act on it. Where the Shop and Establishment Act licence is concerned, the BMC will look into it."

Asked whether BMC has issued any license to street food vendors, he added, "Since 1972 we have not issued any licence to them."

But GH Rathod, joint commissioner (food), FDA, said that the civic authority's role is obsolete in this matter. "All those who sell food will have to seek licence from the FDA. The BMC will have no role to play," he said, adding, "Street food has now been now legalised from August 5. Anybody who seeks the FSAS licence will be issued it in accordance with the norms."

An FDA official revealed that a team of FDA in Maharashtra is conducting a series of meetings with hotel owners, other representatives of the hospitality industry, and people from sampling and labelling industry across the state. "The meeting is to give them a clear brief about the rules and regulations, the act and guidelines about the amended FSAS Act. As the law is applicable all over the state from August, making people familiar with the law is important. However, the department is going slow on this, as we want the licensee to get things in place. The rule will be followed stringently only by next financial year."

Omprakash Sadhwani, joint commissioner (Law), said, "Any food business with a turnover of Rs 12 lakh and above will have to seek the FSAS licence, whereas those whose turnover is less than that will now have to get registered with the FDA."

The strongest critic of the amendment is the hotel lobby.

"A hawker, who prepares food in open spaces, will be a legal entity. This is partiality with those who are into the organised food business. This means people who run restaurants are fools, running legally and giving customers a good ambience. All will then turn into street vendors by paying the licence fee. We have urged the department to look into the pros and cons of it," fumed Sudhakar Shetty, president of Indian Hotel and Restaurant Association (AHAR), an umbrella body of over 8,000 restaurants and bars. 

Shetty said that according to an apex court ruling, roadside cooking has been banned.

Sukesh Shetty, vice-president, AHAR, said, "A number of taxes, VAT, Octroi etc have burdened the hotel industry already. We fear that the power given to the authority may be misused. Though, we have been assured that false complaints against hoteliers will not be entertained."

High-giene standards
Only those establishments will be registered where the following practices are in place: 
>> Wearing gloves 
>> Ensuring regular cleaning of machine and equipment 
>> Ensuring no food is exposed in premises not separated from a privy, urinal, sullage, drain etc 
>> Testing food for chemical and microbiological contamination 
>> Maintaining ideal temperature throughout the supply chain, from the place of procurement till it reaches the end consumer 
>> Manufacturer or distributor shall buy and sell food products from registered vendors 
>> Hotel owners selling or exposing food for sale shall put up a notice board containing lists of articles which have been cooled in ghee, edible oil, or vanaspati for the benefit of purchasers 
>> Food business operator selling cooked food shall display notice board containing the nature of articles being exposed for sale

Businesses that fall under the FSAS Act
>> Hotels and restaurants with an annual turnover not exceeding Rs 12 lakh 
>> Permanent and temporary stallholders 
>> Hawkers (itinerant/mobile food vendor) 
>> Home-based canteens/ dabbawallas 
>> Petty retailers of snacks/teashops 
>> Manufacturers/processors 
>> Repackers
>> Food stalls/arrangements in religious gatherings, fairs etc 
>> Milk producers/milk vendors (who are not members of dairy cooperative society) who procure or handle or collect up to 500 litres milk per day 
>> Dhabas 
>> Fish/meat/poultry shops/sellers with a capacity of slaughtering two large animals or 10 small animals or 50 poultry birds per day

Comply, or pay up
>> Penalty for substandard food: Rs 5 lakh; 
>> Penalty for misbranded food: Rs 5 lakh and above; 
>> Penalty for failure to comply with the directions of the food safety officer: Rs 2 lakh; 
>> For possessing adulterants: Rs 2-10 lakh; 
>> Punishment for unsafe food, not resulting in injury: Six months imprisonment and Rs 1 lakh fine; In case of death: Seven years imprisonment and Rs 10 lakh fine   
>> Carrying on business without licence: Six months imprisonment and Rs 5 lakh fine;   
>> Failure to renew licence: Rs 100 fine each month  

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