The food business, like all other businesses, must be operated with sincerity, responsibility, transparency, and accountability. Importantly, the Food Business Operators (FBOs) must realize that they too have a major responsibility in society, since the food they supply or serve has a direct bearing on the health of the citizens. With this in mind, the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011 have clearly stipulated that all FBOs must have a valid license/registration in compliance to FSS Act, 2006.
It is to be noted that FBOs include any of the following: hotel, restaurant, catering, permanent/temporary stall holder, hawker (mobile food vendor), home based canteens/dabba wallas, petty retailer of snacks/tea shops, manufacturer/processor, packaging/re-packaging, food stalls/arrangements in religious gatherings, fairs etc., milk producers (who are not members of dairy co-operative society)/milk vendor, dhaba, fish/meat/poultry shop/seller, distributor/supplier, as well as others that may not strictly fall within the above classification.
The Schedule 4 of the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011, clearly identifies what the FBOs need to do in order to maintain high standards of food safety. The regulations indicate that all FBOs must maintain general hygienic and sanitary practices. This applies to petty FBOs; FBOs engaged in manufacture, processing, storing and selling of milk and milk products; FBOs engaged in manufacture, processing, storing and selling of meat and meat products; and FBOs engaged in catering/food service establishments.
Since the last category i.e. catering and food service establishments such as hotels, restaurants, snack bars, canteens, rail and airline catering, hospital catering, neighborhood tiffin services/dabba wallas, etc. come in contact directly with the public-at-large, this category is discussed in detail below. The following guidelines should be followed by the FBOs:
- Food preparation areas must be clean, and properly ventilated. Separated and designated sinks to be provided for washing raw food and cleaning cooking utensils.
- Food areas and equipment between different tasks, especially after handling raw food should be cleaned.
- There should be adequate number of hand wash basins, along with soap and water, and clean dry towels/tissue papers for the customers.
- Facilities for staff to change their clothes, where necessary must be provided.
- Raw materials shall be purchased from reliable and known dealers and checked for visible deterioration and off-odor.
- Whole fruits and vegetables should be washed in potable water before being cut, mixed with other ingredients.
- Raw meat and processed meat should be separated from other foods, items and surfaces.
- Separate items (e.g. cutting boards, dishes, knives) and preparation area for raw meats and poultry and marine products should be used to avoid cross-contamination of food.
- Hands should be thoroughly washed before switching from preparing raw meat or poultry or marine products to any other activity.
- Ensure proper cooking of all non-vegetarian products.
- The vehicle/transportation being used to carry cooked/prepared/processed food should be clean and, dedicated for this purpose and should not carry anything else.
- Time required for transportation should be minimum, to avoid microbial growth.
- Fresh fruits/vegetables cut or juiced should be used immediately; however, short storage should be only under refrigeration in sanitized and properly covered vessels.
- Water used in beverages should be potable.
- Ice used should be made of potable water only.
- Prepared confectionery products should be kept in airtight containers and displayed hygienically (no flies please!)
- Cream to be used should be stored covered under refrigeration.
- Good quality, packaged/branded oils/fats should be used for food preparation, frying etc.
- Use of oils with high trans-fats (like Vanaspati) should be avoided as far as possible.
- Ingredients added to the cooked food should be thoroughly washed/cleaned.
- Garnishes etc., if added, should be prepared using fresh, thoroughly washed and freshly cut vegetables and used immediately.
Keeping in mind the theme of “Food Safety” for the upcoming World Health Day on April 7, 2015, the World Health Organization (WHO) has come-up with an ingenious idea for spreading awareness about food safety amongst food handlers that applies not only to homes and private canteens, but also to commercial establishments such as hotels, restaurants and dhabas. WHO has developed a poster highlighting “Five Keys to Safer Food”. In essence, the five keys are:
- Keeping clean, both oneself as well as the cooking area while preparing food.
- Separating raw food from cooked food in order to prevent cross contamination.
- Cooking the food thoroughly in order to kill all germs that may be present.
- Keeping the food at safe temperatures: hot food hot (140°F+), cold food cold (41°F or lower), especially during buffet service.
- Using safe water and raw materials for cooking.
Having set out instructions for the FBOs, the responsibility for enjoying good food does not end there. Some of the responsibility has to be shared by the consumers as well, especially while eating outdoors. When eating out, there is a special need to protect oneself and one’s family. Make sure that the restaurant is clean. Confirm that tables, floors, and utensils are clean. See that the waiters serving food are wearing clean clothes and maintaining basic personal hygiene (not coughing, sneezing, touching nose, smoking or chewing tobacco products etc.). Ensure that there are no insects like cockroaches or rodents like rats roaming about on the floor. Check that your food is cooked thoroughly. Meat, fish, poultry, and eggs should be cooked thoroughly to kill germs. If food is served undercooked or raw, send it back.
If you decide to take your leftovers, remember to refrigerate it within 2 hours of eating out. If food is left in a hot car or temperatures above 90°F, refrigerate it within 1 hour. Eat leftovers within 3-4 days and throw them out if they smell bad or there are visible signs of deterioration. Following these simple instructions will ensure a safe, healthy, and enjoyable eating experience for all.