Lack of staff may affect FDA's monsoon checks
With contamination of food peaking during the rainy season, last-minute inspections by the food watchdog will come with a set of disclaimers, especially for consumers
With monsoons come a plethora of problems related to sanitation and hygiene at roadside eateries. In a bid to address the issue, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has begun its annual monsoon checks, but officials in the monitoring agency claim that staff crunch may fail to yield desirable results. “We will begin our inspection in a few days’ time to ensure that eateries adhere to safety standards. Also the law mandates that there should be 65 food safety officers for Mumbai city, we have only 15,” said Suresh Deshmukh, joint commissioner (Food).
According to norms set by the watchdog, the FDA officials are required to conduct at least 10 inspections in a month, however owing to paucity of manpower the authorities are unable to cover all the eateries in the city. “There have to be 13 designated officers, that is, assistant commissioners, but we only have four, with dual responsibilities of on-the-field work as well as office work. So we have no option but to pick eateries randomly or act on complaints,” said a senior FDA official.
Apart from hotels and restaurants, the FDA will also conduct checks at roadside eateries and hawkers. Officials claim that it is physically impossible to visit every eatery, thus they pick a few where there is a high possibility of contamination or those consumers file complains about. While consumers feel that the FDA should be able to keep a check on every restaurant by making the inspection a year round activity.
A senior official at the monitoring agency said that people should be careful during monsoons as the chances of contamination in food products such as meat, poultry and fish, confectionaries, beverages, sauces and chutneys, readymade soup and gravy etc is high. The senior FDA official said, “As the chances of contamination are high during monsoon, we will be increasing the frequency of our drives.”
Eye on food firms
According to officials at the FDA, the agency has initiated a new plan to facilitate a phase-wise inspection, which will also include scrutiny of food manufacturers starting June this year. The audit will cover aspects such as sanitation and hygiene conditions, layout, and waste disposal system at restaurants.
In the initial phase, which will continue till September, food-manufacturing companies will be targeted and laboratory analysis of food products will be conducted. If the quality is found to be poor, a fine of Rs 2 lakh will be levied on the erring manufacturers.
“Companies should get the analysis done either in their own laboratories or those accredited by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). If it does not have accreditation, then they will be asked to stop activity,” Deshmukh said. In the last financial year, the FDA managed to collect a fine of Rs 11.56 lakh from defaulters.