A healthy move | Daily News

A healthy move

The move made by Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratne to grade all restaurants, food parlours and eateries in the country is a timely one indeed. On any given day there is a floating population of nearly one million people in the Colombo city, according to a study carried out some time ago, and, with it an exponential increase in the number of hotels and eating houses, operating cheek by jowl against each other, in fierce competition. Needless to say, little or no attention is paid to the quality of the food served or conditions in which they are prepared. Added to this is the unhygienic backdrop and foul atmosphere in which most of these hotels and eating houses function. The unkempt appearances and the health conditions of the cooks and other workers in these hotels are another factor.

Sometime ago, the Colombo Municipal Council announced that its health officers, would, in addition to checking the hygienic condition of the hotels and eateries in the city, also inspect the physical health of their workers to ascertain if they carry any disease that would pose a health risk to the customers. A scheme whereby a medical certificate was to be issued, giving the hotel workers who passed muster a clean bill of health and others who fail the tests to be removed from service, too, was to be put in place. It is not known if this project is still in operation. If not, it is time that the practice is revived, given the growth of the hotels and eateries in the city.

According to Minister Senaratne, all hotels, restaurants and tea kiosks are to graded as A, B based on the quality of the food served as also the type of service. He told a media conference that legislation will be introduced shortly to make it mandatory that all food items should be served conforming to the accepted hygienic standards. Touching or serving food with naked hands will be made taboo, since this contaminates the food. Instead, food will be served with the aid of a gloves, spoon or tissue paper. “We expect to give grades to eateries after inspections and people can choose a restaurant or eatery before they purchase food”, he said.

Not just the regular hotels and eateries, but all eating houses catering to long distance bus passengers at main stops too should be subject to the rule as with buffet cars in the trains and also school canteens. According to the minister, the project will also be extended to hospitals in order to ensure patients are risk free from food poisoning or falling prey to diarrhoea and dysentery due to having partaken of contaminated food. It would be ideal if all the petti kades too are subjected to scrutiny in this manner because there are a large number of people, especially office workers, who prefer to buy their buth packets from these wayside outlets due to their cheapness and also ready availability.

Besides the hotels, there are also individuals who sell lunch packets on pavements and street corners, while yet others have established themselves in the outer premises of certain buildings doing roaring business. The CMC, also, some time back, in a bid to regularize the buth packet trade and ensure risk free fare sought to take a census of all purveyors of the business in the city and issue them with certificates after checking the quality of the product, as an insurance to the customer. Here again it is not known how far this task was carried out.

There are also the food vendors via the cart, especially seen at the Galle Face which also needed to be checked. For these ‘meals on wheel’ have become a special attraction, particularly with children, and the food is served with bare hands often by sweaty and unclean individuals. Hence the need to ensure quality of the food served in these carts and also ascertain if the individuals are free of disease.

Not just the food per se, steps should also be taken to inspect the entire preparation process and the condition of the kitchens in the hotels and eateries. The media recently reported how a lizard had found its way into a meal of rice and curry served at a hotel and there had been other exposures over a period of time of far worse discoveries. The environment where hotels and eateries are sited too should engage the attention of the health authorities. Certain eateries, particularly in the Fort and Pettah are being located near overflowing drains and some not far from public toilets. Needless to say, this is a grave health risk to the customers of these eateries. Such hotels and eateries, far from being given any gradings, should be pulled down, or, made to relocate.

Be that as it may, Minister Senaratne has done the right thing by getting all hotels and eating houses to confirm to standards. With a larger number of people, particularly office workers, today, forced to have their noonday meal ‘out’ due to one reason or another, it is incumbent that they be protected from any health risk from the food they consume. 


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