Surat: With an estimated 40% of Surtis dining out on weekends and during public holidays, quality of food served at roadside eateries becomes utmost important. But the health wing of the Surat Municipal Corporation (SMC) that is entrusted with the job of ensuring this is severely short-staffed.
To add to the misery, the city with a population of over 50 lakh does not have a state-level food testing and sampling laboratory. The SMC has to send food samples to Rajkot and Bhuj for testing. Moreover, the officials do not have powers to penalise those found violating the food safety norms.
Impediments like these makes it difficult for the SMC health department to conduct checks on thousands of roadside eateries and food stalls that have cropped up all over the city. Out of the 11 sanctioned posts of food inspectors, one is vacant, while SMC has demanded 11 more posts from the state government. As per norm, there has to be one food inspector for population of one lakh.
“It is physically impossible to check all the food joints in the city even once during a year,” said a top health official from SMC. “Majority of the food carts do brisk business during the night and we have to constitute a special team and conduct a special drive to go and check these carts,” he added.
“Physically it is impossible to be present everywhere with present manpower,” said Dr Aashish Niak, chief health officer, SMC. adding, “If we take food samples, we have to send them to Bhuj or Rajkot to get it analysed. If we have a lab here we can take action fast.”
He further said with just handful of food inspectors at any given time not more than two teams (with three inspectors each) are out in field checking the food quality. “How can one expect proper food safety standards?” he asked. Moreover, there is no provision of fine against food joint owners for not maintaining cleanliness and hygiene. “They are just issued notices to make them realize their responsibility,” added Niak. Food inspectors said that during inspection they check damaged flooring to clothes of cooks and workers, and even their nails.