LAHORE: Punjab Food Authority is looking to make laws governing the quality of food sold in the province more stringent. It is only a matter of time before selling substandard food items will be made a non-bailable offence, PFA Operations Director Ayesha Mumtaz told The Express Tribune.
The PFA has begun holding deliberations with stakeholders to make food-related crimes cognisable under a new law which will provide for imprisonment and fines.
“Under the new law, anyone found guilty of food-related crimes will be jailed…they are endangering people’s lives.”
The authority has proposed that food-related offences be made cognisable on a complaint by food safety officers (FSO). Mumtaz said the chief minister had approved of imprisonment for such crimes. “That way, no one will be able to go around the law.” She said a stringent law could serve as a deterrent.
Mumtaz said the PFA was going to start an evening shift to keep a check on eateries operating in late hours. “At present, we have a team of 24 FSOs and assistant FSOs in Lahore…New staff will be inducted through the National Testing Service (NTS).” She said there was a strict merit policy so that all new inductions would be made on merit alone.
“The main problem with the food businesses we come across is their lackadaisical attitude towards quality and food safety.” Proprietors spend millions on the right ambience, the right location and frills, she said. Some of them buy franchises of famous international brands and spare no funds in their marketing. “But they ignore standard operating procedures and they just don’t care about hygiene or cleanliness.”
She stressed the need for consumers to know what they were eating. “We came across some restaurants that were serving food stored for over a month. The cooks dressed up leftover food and served it sizzling hot to customers.”
When the dish is served hot with tantalising flavour, consumers tend to believe that it’s fresh, she said. “That, unfortunately, is not always true.”
Mumtaz said restaurants had an ethical responsibility to let consumers know exactly what they were being served. “They [restaurants] try to skirt their ethical responsibilities…but they have us to reckon with.”
Recently, the Lahore Restaurants Association held a protest demonstration against the PFA’s crackdowns.
Mumtaz said that the LRA, however, did not represent the entire restaurant sector. “It is an association of famous brands and food chains that want to continue enjoying the liberty of endangering people’s lives…This we cannot allow.”
She said the LRA had argued that they should be given preferential treatment because they paid taxes. “It’s a good thing that they’re paying taxes and contributing to the national exchequer, but everyone is equal before the law.” She said the PFA had never discriminated towards small or big businesses.
“I have a reputation that I do not accept bribes or quail under pressure…businesses don’t even bother approaching me for favours.”
She said the chief minister’s unequivocal support for the campaign had been instrumental in enabling the authority to do its work.
“During some raids, restaurateurs ask what makes me an authority on food quality…But you don’t need to be a food technologist to implement the law.” She said the PFA does have a team of qualified food technologists and professionals.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 16th, 2015.