Food Safety Goes For a Toss as Staff Crunch Hits Testing Lab
VISAKHAPATNAM: In what appers to be the lax attitude of the authorities, the traders and middlemen adulterate all food items, including water, milk, edible oils, pulses, ghee, honey and sell them in the market.
As the violators go scot-free, several hotels, restaurants and roadside vendors serve unhygienic food.
Though there is a full-fledged Regional Public Health Laboratory (RPHL) in Visakhapatnam, no single food or water sample is tested. Since the state government did not pass orders to the food inspectors to send the samples to the Visakhapatnam RPHL, the food and safety officials continue to send the samples to Hyderabad.
With over 22 lakh population in the city, at least 10 food inspectors should check for adulteration. The government without recruiting the inspectors, has deployed three sanitary inspectors to the Food and Safety department. With no inspecting staff, the Food and Safety wing collects samples of food items and pulses and sends them to Hyderabad for testing.
There are many complaints on the adulteration of food and other edibles and unhygienic food being served in the city, but there is no check on the violators. The wholesalers of various food items like edible oils, ghee, pulses and others purchase in bulk from Rajahmundry, Amalapuram, Palakole and Vijayawada and locally adulterate them.
According to the food and safety norms, the hotels, confectionaries and other vendors selling food items should maintain quality norms. However, as the department was not strengthened, many people have been hospitalised after consuming adulterated food items.
The Visakhapatnam RPHL has three wings to test water, food and diagnosis. However, as the government is not directing the food and safety inspectors to send the samples to the locally set up RPHL, for the past one and a half decades the samples are being sent to the Hyderabad RPHL. At present, the Visakhapatnam RPHL is testing the food items like wheat, sugar and imported and exported items from the Krishnapatnam, Kakinada and Visakhapatnam ports, ignoring the public health. The Vizag RPHL has two senior scientific officers and food analysts, two scientific officers, one junior scientific officer, junior assistant, lab attendant and one lab technician, but the officials are not testing the food items and rendering their services to the importers and exporters to check the quality of their foodgrains.
Adulteration causes serious risk to health and the presence of harmful chemicals in food items and unhygienic conditions lead to acute gastritis and kidney inflammation. Giving the highest priority to the public health, the government should establish an advanced food testing laboratory with modern equipment.
However, the health department did not even issue notification to send the samples to Visakhapatnam lab instead of sending them to Hyderabad, a food inspector lamented. Even after bifurcation, the Health department did not issue any notification, he added.
Assistant food controller B Hanumantha Rao said that after repeated requests to the government, three food inspectors had been deployed to the department.
At least 10 food inspectors, infrastructure and vehicles should be allocated to the department. Due to lack of staff, the department has been facing troubles, he added.