Food safety -- too distant to come by?  

Published: January 03, 2020 22:04:35 | Updated: January 05, 2020 21:58:59

Isn't it thoroughly incongruous that the country's regulating body in charge of food safety, the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA), considers hygiene instead of food safety their foremost priority? A FE report last week brings out this rather bizarre narrative that the state agency responsible for ensuring food safety in the country is more concerned about hygiene than food safety in restaurants, eateries, bakeries, super stores, food processing units -- ostensibly because the latter is too huge and too challenging to deal with!

At a certificate awarding ceremony to hotels, restaurants and sweetshops at a hotel in the capital, BSFA senior officials said that at the moment it is hygiene that they want to see maintained in places where food is sold or served. The obvious question here is: can hygiene alone ensure safety of foods? While hygiene is only a part of the package called food safety, emphasising it alone is, in other words, rendering the package hollow and the drive for food safety pointless. Clearly, any hotel, restaurant or bakery can get away with the crime of food adulteration by maintaining hygiene only. And so, grading hotels and restaurants only on maintenance of hygiene is self-defeating.

Food adulteration, needless to say, is a dreaded reality for most varieties of foods in the country. The upsetting thing is that it is going unabated despite enactment of the Safe Food Law and measures for punishing the offenders at various tiers of production, distribution and marketing of food items. Over the years, it has been seen that occasional drives in hotels, restaurants, kitchen markets and super stores do not help as it is the production and marketing chain that is instrumental in causing the food market to be so notoriously defiant and unruly. Sporadic raids with fines, even hefty, have proved too temporary to leave any impact on the market. It is here that the role of a dedicated regulating body equipped with necessary human, logistic and financial resources can be expected to be effective in not only reining in the malpractices but also in developing safety protocols for the entire food chain.

Now that a dedicated agency, the BSFA, has been set up with the mandate to mend things across the food chain, there is no scope for undirected moves. But grading hotels and restaurants only on maintenance of hygiene is too naïve a move to justify setting up of the long awaited state agency. For all practical purposes, it is the duty of the BSFA to methodically proceed in its task. While strict enforcement of rules should be its targeted objective in ensuring that adulterated, harmful, date-expired foods are not sold or served to the consumers, there should also be adequate groundwork and mechanism to put effective deterrence to production and marketing of these foods. It is thus highly important that the BSFA assumed its mandated role and made its presence strongly felt with unfailing vigil. No doubt, criminality in food business has taken a sinister shape and slack steps have allowed it to prosper to the present level.

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