The quality of rice is poor and even the ice cream served occasionally stinks, say students

There are few checks on the quality of food served in college canteens, especially when it comes to those in residential college campuses in the city's outskirts. Last week, nearly 38 students of SSN College of Engineering were admitted to a private hospital after complaining of severe dysentery and vomiting after consuming food in the mess of the college hostel that houses nearly 300 female post-graduate students. “We ate parotha at night and the next morning, most of us were unwell. The college doctor was no help and so we went to Chettinad Hospital here,” said a student.

“However, when the hospital officials asked us for a police complaint, our hostel administration asked us to go to another hospital. There, seven of us were administered drips, while the rest were put on medication,” she added.

In the aftermath of this incident, students protested and refused to eat in the canteen leading to the intervention of lecturers who promised to look into the issue. The students pay nearly Rs. 2,000 monthly to the college for food alone, and nearly Rs. 4 lakh on the PG course. Nearly 2,200 of the 3,600 students live in the college hostels.

Students point out that this is not the first time such an incident had occurred. “The rice is of poor quality and even the ice cream occasionally smells bad. But since not many people actually fall ill, the administration brushes the issue aside saying, “You shouldn't expect very high standards,” a student said.

Kala Vijayakumar, principal, SSN group of institutions said the college has instituted a rigorous process to monitor the quality of food and hygiene. “We have already appointed additional staff. Also, the student committee decides the caterers, from a list given to them. The checks were always there but now, they will be more stringent and frequent,” she said, adding that the contactor had already been warned. “I think the students panicked. It was just a one-off incident and we will make sure it is not repeated,” she said.

Students in many colleges feel that since most canteens serve outsourced food, managements shirk responsibility if the food turns bad.

Last August, the State government integrated the Food Safety Wing of the Directorate of Public Health with the Department of Drugs Control Administration to form, ‘Tamil Nadu Food Safety and Drug Administration' department (TNFS&DA). All hostels and canteens on campus will now have to register under the new Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006 and the department will be responsible for ensuring food quality and safety standards.

But the fact that most colleges are outside the city also takes them outside the purview of the designated officer for the city. However, 32 designated officers have been formed to look into the quality of food served by hotels and caterers in the different districts across the State.

Many of the 79 colleges, mostly engineering campuses that fall in the purview of Kancheepuram district, are yet to seek licenses from the TNFS&DA. “Many of them do not clean their overhead tanks every 15 days as per rules,” says B. Bharanitharan, designated officer (Kancheepuram). “All colleges with canteen facilities, caterers and restaurants need to have licenses before August. It takes at least 50 days for us to process the license, to check the kitchen sites, hygiene conditions and quality of provisions,” he said.

The department, which is in the process of issuing licenses, at present, conducts checks only based on public complaints. “But we will soon have a helpline that students can call whenever they have problems with the food served in the colleges,” Dr. Bharanitharan added. EOM

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