– Dr Asmita Thaokar
The dawn of the new year 2020 sprang an unpleasant surprise on an unsuspecting world. It all began in Wuhan, China, an outbreak of Covid-19, that rapidly grew into a pandemic and brought the whole world on its knees. The first theory suggested that it started at an animal market via bats, but that is now being ruled out by other theories. The major spread is through human contacts which is why suddenly hand sanitizers, masks, and toilet rolls have become the basic prevention system. So much so that smallest hygiene-related items like tissue paper which used to go ignored on the rack, has suddenly become a must and has disappeared from the market because of panic buying and hoarding.
Does a food handler need to worry as well and does he know his responsibility in these difficult times? Can he play an important role in the prevention and control of the pandemic? The food and hospitality industry are being controlled majorly to stop the spread of Coronavirus and has proved effective in China lockdown. FSSAI is on its toes to help control the spread. GMP (Good Manufacturing Practices) and GHP (Good Hygiene Practices) are the main part of the Food Safety Act, Schedule 4. FSSAI mandates every food handler follow the basic hygiene standards at work. Schedule 4 in Part 1 to 5 gives general hygienic and sanitary practices to be followed by food business operators which include petty food operators and street vendors, manufacturers, transporters, processors, slaughterhouses, meat processing, and the food catering sector.
FSSAI new guidelines on Hygiene Rating and Auditing is one step further to safety in food. Dirty kitchens have always been a major concern for the authorities. Regulatory bodies have started shutting down FBOs with dirty kitchens. My deepest concern is about the Deep cleaning of the kitchen. Food industry, especially catering sector is more into surface cleaning than deep cleaning. Bacteria and viruses growing on greasy deposits on equipment, like exhaust filters, hoods, and cooking ranges are a threat to food and staff at the same time. Deep cleaning should be more frequent than just seasonal activity. She has taken up her passion for hygienic and safe kitchens through her new unique start-up of ‘Complete solutions of deep cleaning for commercial kitchens’. Kitchens in the catering sector are not the priority when it comes to spending money by FBOs. Is it because the consumer is not aware enough?
How seriously these standards are being followed by food handlers and stakeholders? This is a wake-up call for food handlers, to take this Act very seriously and contribute by doing their bit in controlling the pandemic Covid-19. FBOs must brush-up their knowledge about the Act, introspect and inspect their processing units, kitchens, and premises. Maharashtra has reached on top of the list of the number of cases of Covid-19. Milind Deshpande, a former Assistant Commissioner of the FDA, Nagpur, expressed his views. He says, “cleanliness and adoption of hygienic practices is of utmost importance to avoid spreading coronavirus infection, not only for kitchen of restaurants but at each stage of food handling and processing”. FSSAI expects all license holders must take this pandemic as an eye-opener, soul shaker, and a wakeup call.
(Dr Asmita Thaokar, the author is a FSSAI-FoSTAC Trainer and Auditor and owns V Clean Services. Views are own.)