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Food Safety In India: Are We Unaware Or Do We Just Not Care?

This applies to everyone, even the so-called educated classes.

07/02/2017 9:54 PM IST | Updated 09/02/2017 2:05 PM IST
Arko Datta / Reuters

I had written earlier about how a study on street food vendors in Delhi found that only 3% used gloves, and only 2% washed their hands before and after handling food. This shows complete ignorance about the most basic food safety practices. But that's street food vendors. It's not going to happen in branded outlets or stores, right? Wrong!

A few days ago my father went to a premium brand's mall store that charges a bomb for its products. He told me that he noticed that some products on the shelves were supposed to be refrigerated. This was clearly specified on the label. He told me that on asking the store clerk about it, the explanation was that since the store was cool, there was no need to keep the products refrigerated. My father was shocked and, quite frankly, so was I. I really did not expect this level of ignorance in a high-end store like the one in question. I expect the store staff to at least READ the label to know how a product is to be stored. This leads me to the question, "Do we even care about food safety?"

Unsafe and contaminated food can be fatal.

In 2013, in the Saran district of Bihar, 23 children died from food poisoning after eating their midday meal. It was later discovered that the oil used to make the meal had been contaminated by an organophosphate, and that the headmistress ignored the school cook when he informed her that the oil smelled bad. She also ignored the children when they told her that the food tasted funny. It was later discovered that the container used to keep the oil had earlier been used to store an organophosphate pesticide. The headmistress was eventually convicted of culpable homicide not amounting to murder, and criminal negligence. She was sentenced to 17 years' rigorous imprisonment.

Unsafe and contaminated food can be fatal, as the Bihar tragedy clearly demonstrates. Why is it then that we seem to treat it so lightly? I just don't understand it. I think that kids in school, and their parents, should be educated about food safety issues and good food practices. I think it should be a part of the curriculum. I also think that the government should run ad campaigns to make people aware of how unsafe and contaminated food can kill people and destroy families. We need to start caring about food safety. Be careful, be safe.

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