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Monday, July 19, 2010

Edition 25: The Cold Poison

Even as the pre-monsoon showers have graced the city, the heat conditions have not left us. To beat this heat, you might tempted to take solace with the ice gola but before doing so, read this...The city streets are dotted with the ice cream shops and stalls selling juice of all sorts of fruits to the willing consumers. People who have spent even half an hour walking under the scorching sun or driving bike in the traffic jam infected roads found themselves walking towards the stall.With only Rs 5 to 10 a glass of juice or an ice gola, the warmness is diluted and coolness is taken in. Alas, not all stalls selling such items keep to good practices. If you are among those who consume such drinks, eat ice cream in open or consume any type of food sold in open, chances are you might suffer from health problems, which in some cases mean food poisoning also.
The level of this problem is outlined by the statement of Dr. R R Pardeshi, acting health officer of Pune Municipal Corporation. He says, “During the month of April, health department of PMC has destroyed thousands of kilograms of food items like jalebi, samosa, bhel and pani-puri. We have taken action against more than 1,000 vendors in the city. All the 14 ward offices have been instructed to carry out this activity in their area once a week till June.”

With the growing number of students and young professionals coming to the city, the business of roadside fast-food sellers is on the rise. Besides, booming construction activities have also increased the floating population in the form of labourers who also turn to the roadside eateries. The cheap availability of these items also contribute a major share towards attracting the consumers.
The action is taken against vendors selling unhygienic food items on the roadside. The PMC officer informs how the spurious food item enter the market. “The roadside vendors sell stale food and cut fruits that are rotten. Ice cream and kulfi vendors use ice prepared from contaminated water, which can prove dangerous to health. These can cause infectious diseases like typhoid, jaundice, gastroenteritis and diarrhoea.”
Large quantity of ice is used in Pune by people selling sharbat and sugarcane juice. However, there are only two companies in Pune hat prepare ice from decontaminated water which is hygienic. Many use ice prepared from dirty water that can cause a lot of health problems.
Awareness And Action
The civic health department has begun a sustainable drive to create awareness amongst roadside food vendors to improve hygiene at workplace and reduce onslaught of diseases. This awareness campaign is aimed at only licensed vendors.
As for thos without license, action is taken against them in the form of fine charged by the PMC from Rs 300 to Rs 1000 and confiscation of eatables. The fine varies depending upon how the vendor disposes the left-over, used water and how he protects the eatables from flies and bugs. Swargate, Kothrud, Paud road, Pune station area, Bibvewadi road and Aundh are the areas where such vendors are found in large numbers.
Surprisingly, PMC office has no record of food licenses issued to roadside stalls in the city. Moreover, it has no data about the Chinese food stalls in the city. Last week, the issue cropped up in the General Body Meeting of PMC. Corporators of all parties slammed the administration for inaction over the issue. After that, the Nusiance Detection Squads swung into action and within a month, around 4,000 kg of food items were seized and destroyed.

No Norms, Everything Normal
The Food Adulteration (Prevention) Act stipulates that the ice used for eating must be prepared with the clean water. Ministry of Health and Social Welfare has also issued directions in this regard. As mentioned above, there are only two companies in Pune producing ice with decontaminated water. The real problem is that, PMC has no system in place to check the cleanliness of the ice used by roadside vendors. That system is in place with Food & Drugs Administration, but it is reeling under the pressure of manpower crunch.
Ice is used mainly for industrial use and eating purposes (Food Preparation). Ice used for industrial purposes is not required to be made from the clean water. But in practice, the same ice is used for the food preparation also. This is a serious risk to the consumers. In some places, large quantity of Chlorine is mixed in water for the purification purpose. Ice made from this water can also cause some problems like irritation in throats.
Take the situation in Pimpri Chinchwad where no factory for eatable ice is in existence. Obviously, the vendors there import the ice for ice-creams etc from Pune which is for industrial use. A survey undertaken by the health department of Pimpri Chinchwad Municipal Corporation brought this fact to light. The industrial ice made in MIDC Bhosari, Moshi, Dehu Road and Morwadi is being used in the sugarcane juice stalls, fruit juice stalls in the PCMC area, found out the health official. The findings led to closure of many stalls in the area.

The danger zone
Eating contaminated food, especially ice, can cause following diseases:
• Jaundice
• Fever
• Dysentery
• Vomitting
• Throat Infections
• unhygienic ice blocks and cubes are potential sources of infectious diseases like diarrhoea, dysentery and other gastro-intestinal ailments.
• If mixed with drinks, they directly enter the digestive system carrying a number of harmful micro-organisms that hamper the digestive process.
During the month of April, health department of PMC has destroyed thousands of kilograms of food items like jalebi, samosa, bhel and pani-puri. We have taken action against more than 1,000 vendors in the city. The roadside vendors sell stale food and cut fruits that are rotten. Ice cream and kulfi vendors use ice prepared from contaminated water, which can prove dangerous to health. These can cause infectious diseases like typhoid, jaundice, gastroenteritis and diarrhoea – Dr. R. R. Pardeshi, Acting Health Officer, PMC
The Past Experience
Just last year, the officials of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) seized huge stocks of three leading brands of energy drinks, collectively worth around Rs 2.64 crore, from Mumbai and Pune. Interestingly, most of these drinks are sold in pubs and bars.

The officials then had informed that that the caffeine content in two energy drink brands was about 300 parts per million. "This exceeds the permissible limit. According to FDA officials, the high caffeine content not only made the energy drinks addictive, but also resulted in sleep deprivation among consumers.
Even though most of the energy drinks claim to be made using vegetarian ingredients, FDA officials have found taurine (an organic acid which can be found in the intestine) in one energy drink. Sahay said the FDA has taken three samples and seized drugs worth Rs 17 lakh for violating section 18 of the Drug and Cosmetic Act, 1940.
Mahesh Zagade, commissioner of PMCsaid during the discussion in General Body meeting that strict action will be taken against officials refusing to take action against those found supplying drugs and alcohol through roadside food stalls.

JyostanaSardeshpande of the BJP had complained thatthe ward officers were reluctant to take action against roadside food stalls indulging in the sale of liquor. "I have complained to the nuisance detection squad and ward officers often, but no one appears to bother about it," Sardeshpande said.
Appeal To Use RTI
In the past, civic activists had urged citizens to check the record of adulterated food materials with the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC) to avoid consumption of adulterated food items.
Right to information (RTI) activists said that the municipal corporation is not in position to announce the list of adulterated brands because of legal compulsions. So the companies continue to sell adulterated material

“It is necessary that the common people approach the PMC and seek the information to avoid use of adulterated material,” said RTI activist Vijay Kumbhar. “Under the Right to Information Act clause 4 (1), citizens can approach the civic authorities and demand records of adulterated material. It is mandatory on the municipal corporations to maintain the record,” Kumbhar said.
The press release said that, after checking the records with the PMC, it was found that in the last five years the PMC food inspectors have registered just 204 cases regarding adulteration of food material. However, many of these cases are pending and sale of adulterated material like oil, milk and salt, among others continues.

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