The Kerala State Ice Manufacturers’ Association has called off its two-day old lockdown of ice plants that began on Thursday protesting against food safety authorities’ order of closure of 15 ice plants in Ernakulam and Thrissur districts.
But for the 15 ordered to be closed, all the ice plants—which mainly served fishing industry—reopened late Friday afternoon. This followed the association’s talks with Health Minister V.S. Shivkumar and Joint Food Safety Commissioner K. Anilkumar.
Food safety officials had found traces of formalin and ammonia in samples taken from 13 of the 15, and traces of ammonia in the other two. Officials said a part of the ice blocks found their way to cool-drink shops and fruit-juice vendors, thus posing huge health risks. The ice blocks were mainly used to increase the shelf life of fish, thus putting the health of a majority of Keralites at risk.
Had the strike continued, the shortage of ice would have deeply hurt the fishing industry as ice is the main preservative used in the industry. It would also have hurt seafood exports.
K. Uthaman, general secretary of the association, said that they were calling off the strike on the assurance that ice plants would not be ‘arbitrarily’ force-closed without giving them time to take corrective steps.
The association had agreed that all the plants would secure licence from the Food Safety Authority and that they would abide by the norms stipulated by the Food Safety and Standards Act.
The Joint Commissioner of Food Safety, K. Anil Kumar, said the samples taken from the ice plants were sent to the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Kochi, for tests. The closed plants would only be allowed to reopen after getting the test results and the plants took corrective steps.
Food Safety Commissioner Biju Prabhakar, who is currently away at Mussorie, told The Hindu that all the ice plants in the State would be constantly under the authorities’ scanner.
Mr. Prabhakar rejected ice makers’ contention that ice was not a food item and that it did not warrant the safety standards stipulated for food stuff.
Since ice was being used as a preservative of fish, which the majority of Keralites ate, there was no question of lowering the norms for the plants, he said.