The food enjoyed at restaurants all around the world goes through a tedious process of transportation, storage, and handling to move from plant to plate. This process creates many opportunities for bacteria to infiltrate and contaminate food products, which ruins the safety of the food. This can lead to severe damage to a restaurant’s reputation and image, which will negatively impact the restaurant’s sales.
The most prominent example of poor food safety occurred at the popular Mexican food chain, Chipotle. In 2015, hundreds of consumers contracted the E. coli bacteria after dining at Chipotle. This resulted in a nationwide closure of many Chipotle locations and it had an extremely negative financial impact. Individuals at every level of the food supply chain hold responsibility and commitment to thoroughly inspect food products and handle them with extreme safety. Diligence in the transportation, inspection, and handling of food makes a major difference in food safety.
Food safety is more imperative now
The pandemic has brought in the attention towards food safety in a whole new tangent where patrons are now more alert than ever before and can absolutely not comprise on the hygiene prospect while eating out or ordering in.
According to Manish Sharma, Owner of Drunken Botanist, it is extremely important that every diner who visits feel safe in the environment that a restaurant has created. “Right now, guests need to feel that they can sit and take their masks off to enjoy some food and drinks with their friends and family, and hence hygiene is our utmost priority,” he commented.
There is an ever-increasing awareness of food safety by the general public and news agencies are reporting on food recalls and outbreaks more often. It's important for all restaurant owners, workers, and managers to understand the causes and repercussions of foodborne illnesses.
“If an establishment fails to meet customer expectations, the restaurant may lose patronage or worse, the unsatisfied customer may leave a bad online review, thus tarnishing the overall image of the business. Additionally, with growing awareness about food safety, end-users have developed many expectations from restaurants in terms of quality,” said Vaibhav Nayar, Co-Owner, Namaste Desi.
Are regulatory bodies meeting expectations
Restaurateurs believe that FSSAI however holds more responsibilities for proper surveillance.
“While FSSAI is responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety but there are certain lapses that affect the enforcement of the food safety measures. Regulatory agencies around the world adopt a multi-stakeholder involvement to deal with food safety matters,’ added Nayar by pointing that the FSSAI should monitor food safety properly to ensure the customer’s safety. And, also need to develop a comprehensive and well designed national food contaminants monitoring program that takes into account the country’s food safety priorities, as well as the geographic, agro-climatic and population characteristics.
According to Sharma, FSSAI needs to be more proactive and have audits in place to check food hygiene and quality. “We are in the most difficult hours of our lives right now, and serious surveillance should be mandatory. We cannot put our guests at health risks by serving substandard food and ingredients. FSSAI should take things into its hands and make sure that the restaurants and cafes that have reopened are maintaining hygiene and quality both,” he pointed.
Are restaurants ready for improvement?
Post pandemic, FSSAI has geared up to fight against the hygiene issues persisting in the restaurant industry for a long. Recently, the food safety regulator issued an order stating that restaurants will have to mention the FSSAI licence number on bills from October this year.
Mentioning of FSSAI number shall also improve the overall awareness, the regulator said "if not mentioned, it will indicate non-compliance or non-registration/licensing by the food business.”
Last year, FSSAI notified that it will be mandatory for restaurants with central license or outlets at 10 or more locations will have to mention the calorific value (in kcal per serving and serving size) allergen details, nutritional information, health warnings etc against the food items displayed on the menu cards or boards or booklets. Food aggregators will also have to mention the calorific value and nutrition count of the items sold through their platforms, the regulations state.
These changes, however, for obvious reasons, are not desirable for restaurants as it opens up a host of new protocols to be followed. This move, but, would give consumers a most significant right to know about the use of any potentially risky ingredient in food and to understand its possible effects on their health.
While it is now interesting to see how these restaurants are going to acclimatize with the new regime imposed by FSSAI, it will be more insightful to know how effectively the FSSAI could implement their own regulations. Whatever it is, the restaurant industry has surely entered a food hygiene and safety debate where consumers are more aware than ever before.