Do we want to continue eating at unhygienic food outlets?

Published: August 7, 2015
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Examined: 5,500 is the approximate number of food outlets the PFA has inspected in the on-going campaign. PHOTO: PFA FACEBOOK PAGE

The Punjab Food Authority (PFA) Facebook page has become the new talk of the town as on an average, every second day they are providing updates accompanied with shocking images of restaurants, bakeries and food vendors being sealed or fined due to unhygienic conditions.

The PFA might have been set up in 2011 by Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to ensure that clean and hygienic food is made available for the people living in the province, but it really sprang into action since Ayesha Mumtaz has taken over its command a few months ago. Her actions have stirred up a debate about hygiene at food outlets mainly in the social media and it is about time that concrete actions are taken in this regard by the three main stakeholders involved: government, food outlets’ management, and customers.

According to the officials at the PFA, a total of 5,500 food outlets have been inspected in this short period, out of which 250 have been sealed and 2,500 have been given a notice to improve their hygiene standards.

Unfortunately, in line with Sharif’s governance style, the actions of the PFA to date have been Lahore centric and based on taking radical actions upon surprise visits (better captured by the Urdu word chappa) on these food outlets. Firstly, this initiative should spread to other parts of Punjab and also other provinces in the country, mainly Karachi and other parts of Sindh.

Secondly, Mumtaz and her team should make the process of getting licenses to operate these food outlets more stringent and follow-up inspections should be carried out at regular intervals to make sure that hygiene standards are met in a systematic way. The downside of the present chappa approach is that these eateries might easily go back to their old ways after paying off the fines. Once they reopen, they need to make sure that they also start training and initiate awareness programs, especially for small food vendors who might not be very well-versed with the hygiene standards they need to comply with.

In addition, at present, the Facebook page is causing severe harm to the reputation of different restaurants and bakeries in Lahore. Hence, down the road, the PFA should also start a campaign which acknowledges and even rewards the food outlets that have an acceptable hygiene standard.

Maintaining an acceptable hygiene standard requires a significant and continual financial investment by the management of food outlets. This is especially challenging for those outlets that have difficulty in staying afloat in the present business environment prevalent in the country. This is aptly highlighted by the plight of kitchens shown on the American reality television series, Kitchen Nightmares. They are mainly showing restaurants which are deep in debt or their business is not financially performing well.

On the other side of the spectrum, some food outlets stay away from investing sufficient financial resources in food hygiene simply because of the handsome profits they are making, thus they let the status quo prevail by not taking on additional costs. This is why it is not surprising those five-star hotels and restaurants managed by multinational companies are also being penalised by the PFA. The only way these food outlets can be forced to do so is if their profits are impacted. This brings into the equation the customers, who can act as a strong pressure group for these food outlets, to make investments that make sure that hygiene standards are met.

Customers are the sole source of revenue for food outlets, their threat of boycott or pressure to take actions on hygiene standards can be more productive than the measures being taken by the government. As a resident of Lahore, I was not surprised upon discovering the names of some food outlets that were penalised. Unfortunately, I had been eating from those restaurants despite knowing deep down that the food was unhygienic. The taste of food in such outlets makes most of us willing to take risks with our health and have often sadly paid the price for this gamble.

Hence, we need to make a decision – do we want to continue eating at these food outlets?

Customers are beginning to say no, an estimated 50 per cent decline in sales has been witnessed in food outlets that have been penalised by the PFA. The outcome of this decision will most likely guarantee the success of this hygiene campaign at the food outlets, and we the customers need to join hands with the government and ask the management to make hygiene a key priority. If this pattern continues in the long run, our support will also bolster Mumtaz and her team since they fear that they might lose steam in the long run, as it is difficult to stand up against a group of prominent restaurant owners.

Hammadul Haq

Hammad Ul Haq

Is a Doctoral candidate at Uppsala University, Sweden. Other than studying multinational corporations for a living, he is also interested in sports and electoral politics. He tweets @hammadhaq

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • bilalchd

    why b bothered about this food afterall v r busy cutting trees …minning water and converting fertile land to residential areas .. so why bother with thisRecommend

  • Sami

    In Punjab everything is a one man show. One personality hijack the whole institution and as a result the institutes are not developed at all. In order to become a hero the high up officials try to get as much publicity and want to be in the lime light. This discourages the other staff members.

    Just like in the cabinet we only know Shahbaz Sharif while all other cabinet members on a vacation. Similarly Mr Umer Saif of PITB is not letting any other official to get any credit in the IT sector. On the same line Miss Ayesha Mumtaz is a one man show of PFA.

    Director Ayesha Mumtaz’s real job is to organize all teams around Punjab . But due to her so called heroic steps PFA is confined to a small part of Lahore only. Miss Ayesha is not organizing any teams but rather she want to lead everything. PFA is becoming a mess rather than an organized institute as a result. It is transforming into Lahore food authority ( LFA).

    Kindly strengthen the Organizations rather than personalities. Giving all credit to one officer only just discourage all other officers and they could not perform in any manner. Institutes will always be there but personalities will come and go.Recommend

  • Ahsan Haroon

    All of the actions PFA is taking are mostly Reactive rather than Proactive. PFA team goes to a restaurant, make some hullabaloo, take some pictures and come out with a fine depending upon the sales/profits of that restaurant. Would that really help customers in the long run? Have PC and/or Avari seen any decline in the number of customers they get?
    PFA is a Regulatory authority. It needs to come up with a system of policies which restaurants need to adhere to, cleanliness and food hygiene be the basic and most strict ones. What about those restaurants who have taken a hit but after this, they mend themselves? What if on the next visit, their kitchens are clean and food is prepared in hygienic manner? Would PFA then take some ‘After’ pictures and post them on facebook as well and reward the restaurant accordingly?Recommend

  • Sami

    You are right. PFA must organize themselves. This is infact the real Job of Director Ayesha Mumtaz. She is not a raid officer but a director. She cannot reach every corner of Punjab. She have to supervise and should develop a system where all officers will perform their duty and credit should be given to All officials. They should bring the regulations and then should develop a mechanism that how to monitor all food outlets that they are following the standards or not.

    The Maula Jatt Awami hero style of some officers must end. Organize and strengthen the institutions not the personalities.Recommend

  • Muz

    imo carcinogenic, e.g. Coke, is worse than unhygienic. And the awareness is also seriously low!Recommend

  • KahnaKacha

    Well said. But if institutions are strengthened and system starts functioning on its own, then how would badshah slamat “Take Notice” of things and get praised.Recommend

  • Nouman Ahmed

    Not once you did appreciate what Ayesha Mumtaz is doing. Criticism is justified until you give the due credit.

    “In addition, at present, the Facebook page is causing severe harm to the reputation of different restaurants and bakeries in Lahore. Hence, down the road, the PFA should also start a campaign which acknowledges and even rewards the food outlets that have an acceptable hygiene standard.”

    Why reward the food outlets that have maintained standard? Why waste tax money on them? It is the duty of every restaurant, hum par ehsan nahi kr rhe. ”

    Article is biased.Recommend

  • Bibloo

    Nope, not so. See the population of Punjabistan is all concentrated
    in/near Lahore. All 100 million of them. No need to go off and enforce
    food safety rules/laws in villages. And on farmers. Who are eating their
    two rotis and chana daal, which they cooked in their own huts/hovels.Recommend

  • Mubashir Sabir

    i think your restaurant raided by PFA, never mind.Recommend