Srinagar: The official protocol to test the food served at government functions and public events to the incumbent President, Prime Minister, Governor, Chief Minister and Union Ministers, is not being followed in Jammu and Kashmir because the Health and Medical Education Department has failed to set up a Microbiology Lab to test food poisoning and other microbial contamination in food items.
“The Microbiology Lab sanctioned two years ago, as part of the Public Health Laboratory project of the Drug and Food Control Organisation, couldn’t be established due to inordinate delay by the Health and Medical Education Department in buying the necessary testing equipment and supporting infrastructure,” officials told Kashmir Reader.
A Food Safety Officer (FSO), wishing anonymity, said that such callous approach has left officers in a dilemma over what to do about VIP security. He said that in the absence of testing equipment, it is nearly impossible to test the safety of food served at public events.
Sources said that the food analysts are left helpless when they are assigned the job of testing food served to VVIPs. “We can’t test the food for adulteration or poisoning due to bacteria as per the official protocol. Lack of infrastructure and equipment make us vulnerable to grave mistakes,” confided a food analyst.
He said that the analysts who are assigned the job of testing food usually follow a medieval practice of the times of royal courts.
“Analysts and technicians follow an old practice that was prevalent in royal courts, where royal cooks would taste the cuisine themselves in front of the king before he eats it,” the official said.
The food testing is also hampered due to the defunct mobile testing vans of the Drug and Food Control Organisation (DFCO).
“There is no separate staff for the mobile testing vans, which make food testing even more difficult,” rued an administrator.
“The laboratory staff is forced to attend to VIP duty, despite the absence of equipment, which puts them in danger,” he said.
Speaking to Kashmir Reader, Suman Vikas, Assistant Professor at Department of Food Technology, Islamic University of Awantipora, said that a microbiology lab is vital for food safety and quality testing in a variety of food products, raw materials, and ingredients.
He said a simple microbiology lab with basic equipment would take Rs 8 lakh-10 lakh to start.
“The lab must have supporting infrastructure and basic equipment, like ovens for sterilisation, autoclave, incubators, refrigerators, colony counters, laminar flow chamber, microscopes, and computers,” Vikas said.
“It is not a big investment for the government. Many private food and spice companies in Kashmir have small labs. If they have it, why can’t the food department?” he said.
Controller, DFCO, Lotika Khajuria admitted that there has been a delay in setting up the microbiology lab. She, however, denied that any breach of security protocol occurs in her department.
“The police department usually calls us to send food analysts at functions attended by VVIPs. We are doing the best possible to make sure that the food is tested properly. If any of our officials are facing problems in their duty, he or she must give it in writing, so that we take up the issue with the quarters concerned. The issue may be taken up with the Food Safety and Standard Authority for necessary action,” she said.
According to her, the delay in the establishment of microbiology lab is due to the validation process. “We can’t start the lab right away because validation process takes time. We will start it soon because the funds have been sanctioned,” she said.