Temple food and midday meals: need for hygiene protocols

Food poisoning cases in places of mass worship and midday meals in schools need different kind of food safety.

Death by food poisoning is back in the news in Karnataka. As of the last report 13 people have died and over 130 people fell ill by consuming the prasad that was served at a temple in Chamarajanagar. This comes just two days after 87  students took ill after finding lizard in their midday meal scheme.

And the chief minister’s answer to this is to issue a circular, by the Religious and Endowments or Muzrai department of Karnataka, which states that all food served in temples, including those to be donated by private individuals, should be tested before being distributed to devotees. What will be tested and how it will be tested is for anyone to guess. It would not be surprising if tests refers to taste.

Neither test nor taste is a solution to the issue primarily because tests take way too long, are very expensive and the infrastructure is not available everywhere. Taste on the other hand is not an indication either, as good taste is not a guarantee of the food being free from contamination. In this case the methodology for contamination was very primitive but that should not lead us to the conclusion that things can be detected by taste.

The only way to avoid such situations from continuously recurring is to have a preventive system. It starts with having a secured premises. The following are the four basic points that need to be addressed:

  1. Food should not be cooked in an open area as it often happens. There should be a closed area designated for the preparation of food and the cleanliness and hygiene of the place must be maintained.
  2. The people cooking the food must be trained on food safety and hygiene and must have gone through the mandated medical tests before handling the food.
  3. Storage and transport of the food must follow the guideline of moving only in closed containers and at the right temperature, following the tenement “hot must be hot and cold must be cold”
  4. Fresh food must be served ideally within two hours (or 4 hours if the temperature is maintained) of preparation. Packaged food including the prasadam must have a date of expiry and non-toxic packaging material must be used.

The FSSAI had issued an order dated 29th January 2018 on the roll out of BHOG (Blissful Hygienic Offering to God) in states and union territories and the state of Karnataka has done absolutely nothing about it. It is time that we implement things that will be effective and capture the best practices across the states rather than just issue more government orders which cannot be enforced.

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