How many of us ensure in a restaurant or a salon whether the food they serve and the tools and equipment they use are hygienic and safe?
In this regard, the merchants association, Leh, has written a letter to Chief Medical Officer and Municipal Corporation on March 20, requesting to check the hygienic part in restaurants and salons. They have demanded that the concerned departments to conduct proper health checks of the cooks, and to maintain hygiene in the kitchen and the dining area and that there should be a check on the street hawkers as well. Also, in the case of the salons, it should be made mandatory to have properly sanitized equipment used and that their shops are cleaned regularly.
There are 230 registered restaurants and around 60 barbers in and around Leh, while beauty parlours don’t have any association so far.
"At unhygienic beauty parlours, one runs the risk of bacterial infections. There is also a high chance of infection if unsterilized instruments are used on a person immediately after it has been used on a person with the infection. For safe handling of the customers, the employees should be provided with clean clothing, proper gloves, hair nets and other safety and hygienic tools which are necessary for the overall hygienic conditions. The owners of the hotels and eateries must take the onus and ensure that their premises are kept clean and public health is not put at any risk,” says Mohd Iqbal, District Health Officer, Leh.
There are several departments responsible including Food Safety and Standards Authority ( FSSA), Municipal Corporation, Health Department, and Labour department for licensing, monitoring the hygiene part, creating awareness and to fix the rates. However, owing to the lack of coordination among departments, the issue seems to have remained overlooked. Even the sharp blades which should be disposed of properly in a safety pit goes in the general waste and there is no concept of waste segregation.
Dr. Manzoor-ul-Haq, Deputy CMO, Leh, says, “We ensure that the food handlers do not have any infectious or communicable diseases like typhoid, tuberculosis, Ascaris etc. We have a proper survey format for a medical test and after that a certificate will be issued by a doctor. Similarly, in the case of barbers, proper hygiene should be maintained. If the sharp tools like blades are not properly disposed of, then there are chances of further infection, especially among those who have a low immune system. To prevent such cases we organise awareness programmes for them. We issue a notice to the association president and call them for the awareness programme.”
But Budi Singh Chauhan, President of the Azad Barber Union, says that they are not given any awareness or instructions on do's and don’ts. However, on asking some customers, we are told that they do ensure that the equipments are clean and safe.
“There are around 60 hairdressers. I am in this job for 30 years in Leh now. We do follow rules like keeping dettol liquid for septic and using new blades for each customer. We haven’t received any complaints of infections from any of our customers. We dispose the waste in the municipal truck with the general waste but now the Municipal Corporation has decided to operate separate trucks to collect our waste.”
Addressing the issue, Dr. Manzoor Ul Haq says, “Our future plan is to construct a deep pit like the one in SNM Hospital, the present site where all the sharp tools are disposed of. We have given a letter to the Municipal Corporation to allot a land so that they can be disposed of properly.”
Sunil Kumar Nirvan, a Salon owner in Nowshera, says, “30 percent of the customers are concerned about the hygiene part but the rest 70 percent are not bothered about it. But we make sure that the tools we use are clean. We are responsible for our own safety as well as our customers. Until and unless the administration takes strict action, nobody will follow the rules and instruction.”
The Department of Food Safety and Standard Authority department faces challenges in terms of manpower and lack of a vehicle. At present, the department functions with only one staff with no other supporting staff like food safety officer or a field assistant.
“The department is supposed to have one Food Safety Officer and a field assistant for each block. Leh being a very scattered area, we are unable to cover every nook and corner. We need to have a vehicle for mobility and for smooth functioning of official work. Further, I am also the incharge of Kargil district. There are about 1,350 registration holders and about 100 license holders of Food Business Operators (FBOs) in Leh district under FSSA, says Tamchos Gurmet, designated Officer, Department of Food Safety and Standard Authority.
“Our main role is to see the quality of food products mainly packaged food items. In this regard, my role is to collect the food sample from food business operators like wholesalers, distributors and retailers and get them tested from food laboratory, Srinagar. In the last 2-3 years, I have collected about 60 to 65 samples of various food products and out of these 8 were misbranded and 5 sub-standard. There are 3 types of violation regarding food samples like misbrand, sub-standard and unsafe. If the sample is declared unsafe, then it is to be prosecuted in the court of Chief Judicial Magistrate and is liable to 6 months of imprisonment with fine up to ₹ 3 lakh. The violators were prosecuted in the court of adjudicating officer under the provision of FSSA and fined ₹1, 23,800 under various sections,” adds Tamchos Gurmet.
The medical department had conducted an inspection in the month of March and found some tea stalls and restaurants in the Skalzangling area violating the rules. Some of them haven’t displayed their license and some haven’t renewed their medical certificate since 2016. Among other violations, sanitation officials noted that many of them were found throwing kitchen waste in the roadside canal.
“ It is important that hoteliers follow the hygiene norms, they must wash their hands and dusters regularly and ensure that they are medically fit. The kitchen is the most dangerous place and those who have low immunity are vulnerable to infections. It is important to keep a separate chopping board for vegetarian and non-vegetarian and foods are properly cooked. Since smoking is banned in restaurants, it is compulsory for them to have a no-smoking board, says Dr. Manzoor Ul Haq, Deputy CMO, Leh.
Commenting on the issue, Dr. Mohd Iqbal, District Health Officer, said, “Earlier Chief Medical Officer would issue the license but later handed over to the Municipal Corporation. We carry out random checks on restaurants and tea stalls and many of them were found violating the rules. Now our plan is to pick some areas and create awareness among them.”
The Municipal Committee has come up with a new initiative that is to operate a vehicle especially to pick waste from hairdressers twice a week, Monday and Friday. Also, keeping in mind the safety of the waste handlers, the Municipal Corporation has decided to segregate their waste.
Rigzin Spalgon, Administrator, Municipal Committee, “We have asked the Barber Association to give us the list of barbers in and around Leh. Their waste is divided into two: hair which can’t be sold as they are too short and the blades, which are contagious. We have instructed them to use blades only one time and to keep dettol liquid for septic and blades separately. Normally metal can be reused and we will be exploring the scientific way to reuse it. We are staking the blades at one place.”
With the onset of summer season, we see street hawkers selling various food items at various places without following the hygiene norms, putting health of customers at risk. The Restaurant Association claims that they have been raising this issue for a long time now but nothing concrete has come out of it. Few restaurant owners complain that they have been mistakenly blamed by some individuals and the administration for the garbage thrown by the street hawkers and customers on roads.
Commenting on the street hawkers, Rigzin Spalgon says, “Earlier many street hawkers would sell food items without documents but since last year we have decided to keep a check on them also. Since it’s seasonal, last year we issued licence to 15 street hawkers with proper instructions, timings and location. It is good to have street hawkers in a tourist place. In many places, there is a culture of street food. We are planning not to allow street hawkers to run their business for a while due to windy and dusty weather conditions.”
Lack of drinking water and drainage are some of the issues raised by restaurants and beauty salons in Leh. Tsewang Dorjey, President, All-Ladakh Restaurant Association, says that they buy water paying ₹ 120 per barrel and to clean the septic tanks twice a year costs around ₹ 17,000 (₹ 8,500 per trip and ₹1.50 lakh to clean the whole septic tank).
“Drainage problem is there. Only 70% of the work under Urban Infrastructure Development Scheme for Small and Medium Town (UIDSSMT) is completed so far. This problem will be resolved once the Sewage Treatment Plant is completed. In fact, we received complaints that people are connecting it to the main pipeline which we discourage. We are providing an alternative solution to the problem of drainage. We have started operating sucker truck on Public-private partnership (PPP) mode and the faecal matter are treated at Faecal Sludge Treatment Plant (FSTP) at Bombgarh. As of now, they are cleaning the septic tanks of army and hotels".
Talking about future plans, he says, “We are planning to bring two more sucker trucks: one big and one small. 100 percent of the town area will not be covered even after the completion of UIDSSMT Project. The remaining will be covered by FSTP. So far, over 1 lakh litre of faecal matter, including the army’s, has been treated successfully. We have a plan to complete the solid waste management soon which is located at Shaksha-Lingu which comprises in-vessel composting, segregation point and others. We are yet to receive the machinery parts which will be set up by the construction division. We have already begun the primary segregation but after the completion of solid waste management, secondary segregation, recycle and reuse will be done here at the new site (Shakshalingu) and the old dumping site (Bombgarh) will be cleaned.”
Though the concerned departments have a pivotal role in addressing these basic issues, it is for the people to ensure their own safety and take care of others’ safety. There is a need to disseminate information regarding healthy and safe behaviour and create awareness among the food handlers and beauticians on hygiene.