COIMBATORE: Food safety officials are grappling with verifying the genuineness of the increasing number of complaints about finding worms, dirt, dust and the like in packaged food products as around 40 percent of such claims turn out to be false.
The lack of provisions under the food safety rules to take action against those filing false complainants has become a cause of concern. The officials say such rules are imperative to prevent people from making such claims for monetary gain or with other ulterior motives.
In 2011, when the Food Safety Wing was established, there were no complaints about food adulteration in Coimbatore district, which now tops the State in the number of such cases. In 2012, there were 14 complaints, which rose to 32 in 2013 and 40 in 2014. The number of cases this year, 57 so far, is expected to reach 100 by the year-end.
While 10 the 40 complaints in 2014 were found to be false, as many as 21 of the 57 filed so far in 2015 were false.More cases are registered as people are more aware of food safety rules now, said R Kathiravan, Food Safety Wing Designated Officer (Coimbatore).
“But the misuse of laws meant to safeguard public health is worrying,” he added.It takes considerable time and effort to weed out false complaints, he pointed out. “When a person registers a complaint, we cannot know whether it is true or not. Only after investigating it can we determine its genuineness,” said Kathiravan.
Another consequence of the increasing number of false complaints is that officials treat all complaints with a degree of scepticism. So, it is possible that genuine and serious complaints do not enough attention.
Nevertheless, complaints are being registered, investigated and when found genuine, the offenders taken to court. The Coimbatore Food Safety Wing collected 307 samples so far this year. While 80 of them were misbranded or sub-standard, 60 were harmful to health.
There are 45 cases from Coimbatore district in court, but in other districts, the number of such cases is less than 20. Indeed, some districts in the State have not registered any case under food safety rules, he said.
Plaints Hinge on Personal Vengeance
A couple of weeks back, the Coimbatore Food Safety Wing received a complaint that live worms were found in snacks served in a restaurant in Singanalloor. As it seemed genuine, the officials conducted detailed examination of the hotel, its kitchen and the materials it had purchased. Nothing wrong was found with the samples of food which were tested. The hotel was found to be maintaining all prescribed standards. The officials could not decide how the worms appeared in the snacks.
However, the cause was soon determined, and easily enough: footage from the hotel’s CCTV showed the complainant himself placing the worms in the food.
After doing it, he made a hullabaloo about it and took samples of the snack to the food safety officials.
Further inquiries revealed that there was a quarrel between the complainant and the hotel owner a few days prior to the incident. The man had played the whole game to take revenge on the hotel owner.
The efforts of the food safety officials thus proved to be waste. And they could not even take action against the complainant as there are no provisions in the law to punish those who make false complaints.
As the number of false complaints shows, many people are misusing the food safety rules.
In another instance, a group of people wanted to evict a tea shop from a building in the city. When several methods failed, they decided to make use of the food safety rules.
They placed worms in the food items served there and complained to the Food Safety Wing. The intention was to give the shop a bad name so that people stop going there. The owner would then leave the place as profits fall. However, the officials found this out and the case was dropped.
“False complaints look exactly like genuine complaints. We are helpless in identifying them when they are made,” said R Kathiravan, Food Safety Wing Designated Officer (Coimbatore).
“Once a man came with a complaint of dust in soft drink. Though false, even the cap of the bottle was in its place. We are really surprised at the ways people can frame a complaint without a hint that it is false,” he added.