Don’t you just wish you could see what’s going on in the kitchens of even the poshest eateries in the city?

Ramanujam Krishna (name changed), a working professional, does not eat out often. He has a good reason. He still shudders at the memory of falling seriously ill after grabbing a quick bite at a famous eatery in Jayanagar 4 Block.

“I had roti and some subzi. Within minutes I had severe stomach cramps. It got so bad I left work early and went straight to the doctor, who diagnosed it as severe food poisoning. I wanted to complain about the hotel but didn’t know whom to approach,” he said.

The ubiquitous bug

Anirudh Mavanoor, who frequents a popular coffee chain, was shocked to see a cockroach traipsing over a sandwich kept at the display counter.

“When I pointed it out to the manager, he removed the cockroach but kept the sandwich back. It was only when I insisted that he throw it that he grudgingly did so,” he said.

These two cases are not surprising as the frequent raids by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) Standing Committee for Public Health have caught several renowned hotels and eateries serving inferior quality, sometimes even stale food.

Heavily spiced

However, citizens say that random raids serve no purpose. Kumar G. (name changed), who used to work in the food industry, says mid-segment eateries routinely procure rotten vegetables and meat of poor quality at half the price, and marinate them in heavy spices to mask the taste. “Rice is also recycled. Rice made in the afternoon is washed thoroughly to separate the grains and is then turned into fried rice. Whatever is left over becomes curd rice,” he said.

If this has curdled your stomach, there’s more. Mr. Kumar said meat is salvaged from the gravy and washed, and becomes kebabs the following day. “The small eateries are not the offenders here. As they lack storage space, they plan properly and ensure there’s no leftover food. Big hotels, restaurants and eateries are the major offenders. To save money, they procure bad quality vegetables and meat, thereby risking the health of customers,” he said.

Rotten meat

S. Venkatesh Babu, chairperson of the BBMP Standing Committee for Public Health, told The Hindu that during a recent surprise inspection, he was shocked to see rotten meat stored in refrigerators, unwashed utensils being used in the kitchens and liberal quantities of food colouring and monosodium glutamate (ajinomoto). “In some places, the washing and cooking areas were adjacent. No hygiene was maintained and vermin were having a field day,” he said.

He has received nearly 60 complaints, both oral and written, from citizens about poor quality of food served in the many hotels and eateries across the city. “The committee will look into all these complaints by raiding the eateries. The drive is to ensure that they maintain cleanliness and don’t risk public health,” he said.

However, BBMP’s Opposition Leader M.K. Gunashekar said these raids serve no purpose. “One of the obligatory duties of the BBMP is to maintain public health. However, it lacks the requisite manpower and thus has not been able to monitor quality, ensure prescribed standards, and enforce the Food Safety and Standards Act. I feel that the BBMP is not taking this issue seriously enough,” he said.

Any follow-ups?

As per the Karnataka Municipal Corporations Act 1976, the BBMP has the powers to inspect and close down places that serve stale or inferior quality food, besides cancelling their trade licence. “The Standing Committee is only levying penalties and issuing notices. What happens next? Have there been any follow up inspections?” Mr. Gunashekar asked.

Mr. Venkatesh Babu said that after the notices are issued, the establishment is shut down. “We will permit it to be opened only after the owner comes back with a report on the changes. Only after this is ascertained, the owner is allowed to start business again,” he said.

Inspectors’ shortage

BBMP Commissioner M.K. Shankarlinge Gowda conceded that there was shortage of food inspectors in the BBMP to enforce the Food Safety and Standards Act.

He said that owners of hotels and eateries must take the onus and ensure that their premises are kept clean and public health is not put at any risk. “The new Act is much more stringent than the previous Act (Prevention of Food Adulteration Act). We have urged the government to allow the BBMP to recruit more food inspectors,” he added.

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