Lahore: Owners of restaurants and eateries are having sleepless nights because of Punjab Food Authority (PFA) ongoing campaign against food adulteration.
This is the first time that public at large is all praise for measures taken by the food authority against restaurants eateries charging exorbitantly but not maintaining hygiene on premises.
The PFA is currently inspecting kitchens of small-medium restaurants and food outlets in upscale areas. Even multinational food chains have been fined and sealed recently for various reasons. It has also raided restaurants of big hotels, canteens of hospitals and fined them.
Talking to News Lens Pakistan, a foodie, Mustajab Saeed, said it is shocking for him that even famous and expensive food outlets work under such unhygienic conditions. He said there is hardly any eatery in Lahore where I have not eaten and now I realize most of them literally serve junk to customers. Now, he said, he doesn’t trust any eatery now and has stopped eating out.
Lahore is considered a paradise for food lovers and eating out is a favourite pastime here. The city is dotted with restaurants and food outlets. Though people are aware of availability of adulterated foodstuff, general perception is that substandard food is only available at roadside eateries. However, raids on restaurants in posh localities have broken the myth and generated public hatred.
“The restaurants in the posh areas have registered a 50% decline in their businesses despite the fact that these outlets cater to only five percent of the total population,” said Ahmad Shafique, General Secretary of Lahore Restaurants Association, while talking to News Lens Pakistan.
He said that the PFA hasn’t made any SOPs yet and is violating rules by directly closing the restaurants or imposing fines. Restaurant owners are ready to improve conditions and train staff, but it will take some time. New staff is properly trained, but training old ones needs time, he said
Shafique claimed PFA allegations of sale of contaminated and time-barred food are baseless and false, saying the authority staff is not food specialists and no one can even judge the quality of meat without a lab test. The PFA is exceeding its limits and is giving a wrong message to potential export markets by posting them on social media, he said.
PFA Director Operation Ayesha Mumtaz told News Lens Pakistan the authority’s performance can be judged from the fact that it inspects each and every restaurant or eatery located in upscale localities or suburbs.
“We are not violating rules. When one inspects a restaurant with a naked eye and sees expired products or meat, then one doesn’t need to send samples to the laboratory or get them tested by a food scientist.”
“We do send samples to the laboratory. Since my joining the authority two months ago, I have inspected over 5,500 restaurants in the city and sealed only 250 and issued improvement notices to over 2,500 of them.”
She said the PFA is not against restaurants. It just wants them to better food standards. If a restaurant on MM Alam Road claims to be selling perfect quality food and in reality it doesn’t, then it should be penalized, she said.
The PFA rules are being amended to make food adulteration a non-bailable offence to further better food quality in Lahore at first and in the province later, she said.
The Punjab Food Authority was established in 2011 and it started operation in Lahore as a pilot project. The authority is due to expand to all districts of Punjab.
The authority in the start faced criticism when it began inspecting multinational brands and found major discrepancies. Later, the PFA managed to recruit food safety officers in all towns of Lahore to further improve its expertise but there are still many things that need to be done.
“The PFA rules are not properly defined and in some cases are exceeding limits. However, we should praise its efforts to inspect those premises which were considered out-of-bound for the food department”, said Mohsin Bhatti, president of Consumer Solidarity System, an NGO, while talking to News Lens Pakistan.
There is a lot of ground yet to be covered by the authority i.e. exposing manipulation of products of multinationals, he said. The rules further need to be strengthened, as mere fines are just peanuts for such restaurants. The general public needs to be made aware of rights and work should be done in this direction so food outlets get cautious in future. Being consumers we have the right to access their kitchen to know what and how they are cooking, Bhatti said.
There should be a grading system for all restaurants, if any restaurant is fined, it should be downgraded and the public should be informed via social media or from their website. This will further alert restaurant owners and food outlets and make them maintain hygiene and food quality, he said.