Operation Monsoon: Check, please

Food safety dept is holding a major inspection drive. TNIE speaks to officers about their concerns and to experts about monsoon food woes
The drive focuses on ensuring stringent hygiene in eateries, thorough inspections of food establishments, and conducting public awareness
The drive focuses on ensuring stringent hygiene in eateries, thorough inspections of food establishments, and conducting public awareness Express Illustration

KOCHI: The arrival of monsoon brought cheers to Kerala, which was reeling under a never-before-seen heatwave. However, with the rain came the risk of illnesses, especially water-borne diseases.

To combat this, the food safety department officials have pulled up their socks and embarked on a major inspection drive — Operation Monsoon — in eateries across the state to ensure the health and well-being of the people. As part of it, the officials have asked all eateries to use clean and safe water in kitchens for cooking and washing since there are higher chances of water contamination and water-borne illnesses during the monsoon. The eateries should possess a water quality test report showing the source of water and its quality.

The drive focuses on ensuring stringent hygiene in eateries, thorough inspections of food establishments, and conducting public awareness campaigns to promote safe handling and consumption of food.

“Through Monsoon Operation, we aim to ensure food safety in public places across the state,” said Jacob Thomas, deputy commissioner of food safety, Ernakulam.

He said the drive is being implemented in addition to the routine inspections carried out by the department.

Explaining the drive, one of the nodal officers overseeing it said the plan is to focus on particular regions in a district and intensify inspections in eateries there.

Additionally, officials have asked eateries selling shawarma to strictly adhere to the food safety department’s guidelines. They are also conducting regular inspections to ensure the eateries providing takeaways follow instructions and affix a label indicating the time of food preparation and the “best before” time.

officials have asked eateries selling shawarma to strictly adhere to the food safety department’s guidelines
officials have asked eateries selling shawarma to strictly adhere to the food safety department’s guidelines

“A special squad has also been formed to monitor eateries selling items like shawarma, al-faham and mandhi,” said Rani Chacko, deputy commissioner of food safety department.

A total of 2,121 eateries were inspected across the state under Operation Monsoon in the two weeks since its launch on May 22. Of these 286 eateries were issued rectification notices, 59 received closure notices, while 290 were served compounding notices. Surveillance and statutory samples were collected from 1,303 and 145 eateries, respectively.

In Ernakulam, three squads have been formed under Operation Monsoon. “The squads inspected 327 eateries from May 22 till June 4. Of them, 94 eateries were served rectification notices and fines were imposed on 62 eateries. Closure notices were issued to eight eateries. Surveying samples were collected from 199 eateries,” said the drive’s nodal officer in Ernakulam.

In Thiruvananthapuram, 231 eateries were inspected, of which 12 were served rectification notices, while 18 were fined. Ten eateries received closure notices. Surveillance and statutory samples were collected from 90 and 24 eateries, respectively.

Safety at home

Food safety is important not just during monsoon but round the year. The monsoon season exposes us to many pathogens leading to an increase in diseases. During rainy season, moisture content in the air becomes high, allowing various disease-causig microbes to multiply.

Rajiv Ambat, a nutritionist and founder-CEO of NuvoVivo, said the primary focus of food safety has always been on immediate dangers to one’s health. “However, what about long-term dangers coming from food additives, farming practices, processed food and the like,” he asked.

“The only difference is that one is acute inflammation (short-term) and the other is chronic inflammation (long-term). We have to look at food safety beyond this. It is a common habit to refrigerate food. Though it’s not healthy, we are forced to do it. So, at least we should do it right. For example, while refrigerating food, the temperature should be 4 degrees Celsius. If we are putting it in the freezer, it should be -18 degrees Celsius,” said Rajiv.

“Fruits and vegetables are highly susceptible to moulds and fungi during monsoon. During monsoon, food-borne illnesses see a rise. Food poisoning from E coli, salmonella and other contaminants is very common in this season,” said Rajiv.

He said most food addictives are sodium-based compounds that help increase shelf life. “While heating, some food that contains sodium can turn carcinogenic. In processed meat for instance, sodium nitrite is applied to prevent the growth of bacteria and increase shelf life. While the meat is cooked, the sodium nitrite reacts with amino acids and produces nitrosamine, which is a carcinogen. We should always check the quantity of sodium in packaged food and try to buy processed food having less sodium-based compounds.”

Age-old home remedies like using herbs to keep insects away from food are very beneficial during the monsoons, says Girija Sreekandan, a homemaker in Kollam.

“Herbs and spices like neem, cloves, turmeric and dried chilies can be stored with pulses and rice to keep insects away. These are natural insect repellents,” said Girija.

“My grandmother used to make it a habit of including herbs and spices in our diet during monsoon as it helps boost immunity and keeps the body warm,” Girija said.

Keep food fresh

Wash vegetables

Take extra care while washing vegetables and make sure to use running water as vegetables may contain insect larvae

Proper storage

Fruits and vegetables should be stored in the refrigerator to prevent them from spoiling. After washing, these should be dried properly and stored in paper bags in separate sections in the refrigerator

Use airtight containers

Moisture in the air during monsoon is the main reason why bacteria thrive. Keeping your food in airtight containers significantly reduces the risk of spoiling or moulding. Store items like salt or sugar in glass containers to eliminate risks.

Operation Monsoon

Parameters for eateries

  • All should obtain licence/registration

  • The drinking water used in the establishments should be boiled/filtered

  • Pest-control inspections should be carried out and certificates maintained

  • Medical fitness certificates of employees should be ensured; only those possessing the certificates should be employed

  • Raw food should be kept in store-rooms

  • There should be no rat infestation

  • Eateries should maintain a drinking water inspection certificate (renewed every 6 months)

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