Health minister Veena George directed the Food Safety Commissioner to conduct an inquiry into the food poisoning case in Cheruvathur, and submit a report. Devananda, a 16-year-old girl died and around 30 other students and youths fell ill after having shawarma from Ideal Cool Bar and Food Point.
Minister for Local self-government M V Govindan called on the patients of suspected food poisoning in the District Hospital in Kanhangad on Sunday. Govindan said the government will conduct a checking of eateries and restaurants across the state to ensure the quality of food.
Despite the reassuring words, the reality on the ground is unpalatable. Take the example of Ideal snacks bar. It does not have a food safety licence, said Kasaragod food safety assistant commissioner John Vijayakumar. It applied for the licence in January but was ‘auto-rejected’ because it did not submit all the required documents.
If Ideal had submitted all documents, it would have got the licence without even a visit from food safety officers. An eatery can apply for a licence for up to five years by paying the requisite licence fee.
Food safety officers said they confine their site visits to manufacturing units before issuing a licence. For restaurants, hotels and eateries, they check only the documents.
Kasaragod district has five posts in the Food Safety Department. Of them, three are vacant. It is humanely not possible to visit all the restaurants for giving licence,” said Vijaykumar. During surprise checks, if they do not have a licence, they will be fined and asked to apply for a licence. In other words, the Food Safety Department confines its role to collecting licence fees for the government.
In this case, Vijayakumar said he had got a phone call from a customer around 11 am complaining that he was having a fever and stomach ache after having shawarma from Ideal snacks bar. “I immediately sent my officer to the eatery. The officer collected samples of food and ordered the closure of the snacks bar,” he said.
“Later, we came to know that many students were in Cheruvathur CHC and the District Hospital,” he said.
The samples from the snacks bar are being sent to the Regional Analytical Laboratory in Kozhikode. “We can conclude whether it is a case of food poisoning only after we get the report from the lab,” said the officer.