Puneâ€™s biggest source of entertainment is its ‘Eating Out’ culture, yet, hygiene consciousness isn’t obviously a priority, for our city foodies
Pune is bursting at its seams with vehicular traffic and streets and footpaths lined with food outlets that restrict the movement of pedestrians and commuters. Every trunk road of the residential neighbourhoods are dotted with food outlets.
Each family outing, be it for a birthday or an anniversary or just a get-together of friends calls for eating out at restaurants. Takeaways are immensely popular too.
Buying food has become an integral part of Puneâ€™s lifestyle and forms a significant part of the family budget.
This is a complete makeover of the once-conservative Pune, when young men stole their way to Iranian restaurants to taste their first omelettes and women apparently stealthily bought bread…
However, we now need to introspect to see if, in this frenzy of eating out, we are overlooking crucial factors concerning hygiene and safety?
For instance, a bad stomach or food poisoning after a visit to a restaurant is common, but most of us do not take this serious enough.
Neither do we learn a lesson from this or take the restaurant or outlet to task on this incident. We just accept the injustice meted to us each time and just attribute it to their carelessness.
It was RTI activist Vijay Kumbharâ€™s crusade a few years back followed by an investigation by my editorial team (at a city periodical I edited) that the Health Dept- PMC files were inspected under RTI, that revealed the questionable standards of kitchens of even Puneâ€™s elite restaurants.
With just over a dozen food Inspectors for pune, you can imagine the pathetic surveillance of food safety and hygiene.
Yet, these handful of inspectors do keep sending notices to restaurants, in whatever limited capacity they enjoy. Our RTI inspection revealed that prominent restaurants at different locations were sent show-cause notices for unhygienic and dirty kitchens. Saying this thought, it isn’t hard for anyone who runs a kitchen or has a dream of opening their own restaurant to do research about effective ways of improving sanitation through sites such as CKSGLOBAL.NET. It is important to remember the hygiene aspect of any business should always be one that you always consider. It’s best to be safe than sorry, especially when it comes to the food industry.
Kumbhar, who had visited kitchens of many restaurants, found that the exhaust fan in the toilet opens out into the kitchen, yet, there was no norm under PMC to correct this blatant disregard for hygiene.
As a sequel to this investigation, I did a Google search of municipal corporations in the USA and discovered an interesting method adopted by the Los Angeles Municipal Corporation. In LA, in case you fall ill (it could be vomiting, fever, diaorrhea, food poisoning) within three days of the food you ate in any establishment, all you have to do is to fill up this online form: https://www.visualcmr.net/webvcmr/pages/public/pub_FBI_Report.aspx
Thereafter, the authorities carry out a telephonic interview with the applicant and raid the restaurant to find out the cause.
Encouraged by this easy online method of food safety audit, I approached the then Municipal Commissioner of Pune with a proposal. I met him and proposed that Pune could follow the LA method of food safety, since our city is very techno savvy.
He thanked me and said this is the best way of social audit. He promised to take it forward. Nothing happened. He was soon transferred out.
I have personally checked the kitchen of a well-known restaurant. I was aghast at what I saw. It was completely dark with one huge exhaust fan fitted in the square of what was once a window. There wasn’t sufficient water â€“ it was only a trickle, so all the pans and other utensils were naturally oily.
They were being further cleaned with dirty kitchen napkins strewn here and there. I saw two small cockroaches in the mixer. Cut vegetables and other food lay open, around. It was a deadly dungeon, to describe it in short.
But as soon as you came out of it, the ethnic dÃ©cor of the restaurant did not give a clue of the source of food to be served on your table.
No one realised, that the price they pay to be at such a restaurant is actually much higher, since their health and safety were at risk.
It is only after this kitchen visit, that Iâ€™ve become wary of eating out. Most of us are shelling out our hard-earned money and inviting sickness and then again spending on doctors.
Iâ€™m not saying all restaurants are unhygienic but there should be a mandatory rule in implement see-through kitchens. We need to know in what environment are they cooking and storing food. We need to know the health file of every waiter and cook, kept right there at the counter. How do we know they are disease-free?
We cannot afford to remain complacent on the issue of citizen health and hygiene, considering its huge repercussions.
It is thus important to be alert at a restaurant and do your own checks on cleanliness and if possible, even peek into the kitchen. As always, better safe than sorry!
#All views expressed in this column are those of the Authors and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
That's Vinita Deshmukh, Senior journalist and RTI activist who believes in journalism that reflects the views and needs of the common man.
Get Real And Stay Relevant says Vinita,