The midday meal tragedy in Bihar has put the spotlight on the public of the quality of food we eat, especially from unorganised eateries

It is like sitting on a tinderbox and blissfully unaware as to when it is going to blow up! This is the situation most Hyderabadis find themselves in, when it comes to purity of food served in small and medium hotels, food mess and roadside bandis.

The midday meal tragedy in Bihar that claimed the lives of two dozen children has stirred up fear among the public of the quality of food that they eat, especially from unorganised eateries.

While the authorities maintain that there is a system of control and accountability in place to regulate established food outlets, it is the ‘fly-by-night’ operators who are hard to control as they largely remain out of the official radar.

Many also point out that there are small and medium-sized eateries that procure plastic drums and vessels, which are meant only for industrial purposes, to store food.

Ice is another major ingredient that every food outlet in the city serves to its customers. However, there is no arrangement to verify the quality of ice that eatery managements use to preserve food.

The suburbs have more than 100 ice factories, but majority manufacture it for industrial purposes. There are very few who manufacture ice for domestic use by using potable water. Sadly, customers are unaware of the kind of ice being served to them.

Doctors say there are many ways that food can get spoilt.

“Food materials are stored in godowns or warehouses for a long time, and the raw material can come into contact with toxins released by rats and other rodents, bacteria and fungi. There are instances where eateries procure containers and vessels, which have already been used by industries. Such vessels will have remnants of harmful chemicals,” says senior general physician Dr. B. Vijay Kumar.

A major hurdle that the authorities face in regulating unorganised eateries is that they do not have licence to operate or serve food to the public under the Food Safety and Standards Act. Moreover, GHMC food inspectors cannot even collect food samples for chemical analysis from such eateries because they do not have a permanent address.

Meanwhile, authorities claim the situation is improving.

“Voluntary organisations are frequently organising training and orientation programmes for street vendors by collaborating with us. In addition, the public should also keep their eyes open and alert the authorities in case they witness something suspicious,” says GHMC Food Inspector, Balaji Raju.

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