Food vendors flaunt ban- using sub quality packaging for cooked meals | Sunday Observer

Food vendors flaunt ban- using sub quality packaging for cooked meals

 Food vendors it seems, are a tough tribe. Undeterred by bans, fines, and threats to haul them to courts and jail them if they continue to flout the food laws, they carry on regardless with impunity. Statistics show proof of their disrespect of the laws under the Food Act. Last year alone the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) filed some 438 cases under the Food Act, the Chief Medical Health Officer Dr Ruwan Wijeyamuni told the Sunday Observer. He said, the Colombo Municipal area was home to over a thousand eateries which include wayside boutiques, restaurants, side cafes, saiva kades and the more affluent take away restaurants, and star class hotels .


But did that deter this growing tribe who seem to have taken the law into their own hands?

Obviously not.

Judging by the large numbers of eateries that have mushroomed and invaded every street corner and back alley in the city, their business has never been better than before.

Most of their unsavoury ware is hidden from sight, often eluding discovery. Even the most meticulous of public health inspectors have found it difficult to scent them out, so well hidden are they inside private houses or in a makeshift building in a narrow alley strewn with dog and cat shit .


There is one thing these backstreet eateries share in common. They don’t lack in customers. In fact, they are better patronized than most of their posher counterparts.

Forget the unhygienic environment in which they are served. Ignore the fact that most of the food is served by bare bodied men with unwashed hands, constantly pausing to wipe their sweat dripping into the food.

Overlook the nutritious quality of the served food that invariably contains a teaspoon of vegetables, a microscopic quantity of fish, meat or chicken, a pappadam re- fried with the same oil which often comes from a dubious much recycled plastic container which might previously have been used for storing paint or keresone oil.

“Who cares , as long as we have a meal to suit our limited shoe string purses? a frequent customer tells me.

The Colombo Municipal Council takes a different view. Now that the President and Health Ministry has reiterated its call for safe hygienic food , the CMC says, it will insist that vendors of food adhere to the Food Act.

“ We started sending out our food inspection teams to the most crowded areas of the city at the start of the festive season last month, since most food offences usually spike during or just before a festive event such as, Christmas, the New Year, Thai Pongal and the National New Year in April.”, Dr Wijeyamuni told the Sunday Observer. Referring to the various Food Acts, he said, the CMC was governed by the Food Act No 26 of 1980 and Act No 29 of 1991.


“So, as you see, these laws are not new. Everyone who is in the food industry is familiar with what they say.

So we don’t have to educate them although we do so all the time. These guidelines have been approved by the World Health Organization. It is the duty of every food vendor to follow them to the letter”, he emphasized. So, who actually is responsible for implementing these guidelines and ensuring that the vendors follow them? We asked.

In response to our question, he said, under the Act, the Chief Food authority was the Director General Health Services, while in the city of Colombo, the Chief Food authority was himself. Explaining further, he said, “The Colombo city is divided into six districts, Colombo North, Colombo Central, Borella, Colombo East, Colombo West and Colombo South.

I have authorized officers under the Food Act to implement the rules and regulations of the Food Act. They are medical officers of health, public health inspectors, and food inspectors.

In each area, we have an MOH and a Food Inspector who carry out surprise inspections of eateries, restaurants, markets, and bath kades, in their respective areas.

They are expected to examine the kitchens where the food is prepared, see how the food is stored, make sure there is running water from a proper tap with soap for the workers and clean drinking water for the customers, ensure that the cooks and food handlers wear uniforms and are not bare bodied!

Since all eateries must have the trade licence for which recommendation by the Public Health Department is mandatory, they have to pass all these tests before they are granted a licence. And even after that our inspectors have the right to visit these sites if there is a complaint from anyone”.

Any number to call?

2676161 . This hotline is open from 8 am to 10 p.m.

We asked him why plastics continued to be used in certain franchised shops . “That comes under the Central Environmental Authority. But we too are strongly advocating cardboard boxes and plastic of food grade and strictly enforcing our less sugar and less salt policy in all our cafeterias run by the CMC”, he said.

Meanwhile, the CEA sources when contacted admitted there were a few supermarkets and leading take away outlets which continued to serve food in styrofoam boxes .“We have warned these owners repeatedly. If they don’t clean up their act we will take legal action soon”, an un named official said. The source said, from this month it will systematically begin raiding manufacturers and sellers who do not comply with the ban on polythene less than 20 microns in thickness.

The manufacture , sale or use of polythene less than 20 microns in thickness was banned in 2007 under the National Environment Act under the directive of President Maithrapala Sirisena while he was Minister of Environment, but the law has not until now been properly implemented, Environmentalists told the Sunday Observer.

They said, the thinner polythene sheets are mostly used in shopping bags or ‘sili sili ‘bags, lunch sheets and other packaging materials.

“Any form of plastic or polythene takes several hundreds of years to decay, polluting the environment, but the worst is the thinner polythene which cannot be recycled,” they said.

Health sources contacted by the Sunday Observer warned householders not to burn plastic in their backyard . “Burning causes the emission of poisonous gases such as dioxin, which in the long run has carcinogenic effects and affects the foetus of unborn children”, National Poisons Unit former head , Dr Waruna Gunathleke said.


So, who uses the most amount of plastic?

A survey conducted by the Environment Ministry revealed that 72 percent of villagers and 49 percent of those in urban areas in the Western Province use polythene lunch sheets.

“This is to be expected,” says Dr Wijayamuni, since the Western Province is the most congested district. We have around 650,000 resident population plus 500,000 floating population at any given time, i.e. around 1.2 million population.

If all of them use plastics imagine what a pile up it would be and the threat to a dengue outbreak as well! We urge our residents to switch to eco friendly shopping bags such as, cloth bags, and to minimize their use of anything made of plastic, such as, straws, plastic plates and cups”.

Over to our readers