A drive against hotels, restaurants, bakeries as well as factories involved with production of ingredients of foods is underway. News of hefty amount of fines realized from such non-compliant units has been making headlines for days. Now comes the news that potassium bromate (KBrO3), a category 2B carcinogen, and potassium iodate (KIO3), responsible for thyroid-related diseases, have been found to be present in bread, buns and other bakery products. The Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BSFA) has warned bakeries of the ill effects of the use of the two harmful chemicals. Since 2016, the Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) has banned these substances' use in bakery items. Clearly, use of those chemicals is a clear violation of food safety regulations.
Intriguingly, though, the Bakery Owners Association is not even aware of the bakery products containing the harmful agents. The bakers like to know precisely which bakery items are at fault. Concerned about public health, the BSFA has every right not only to warn of malpractices, which by and large are random in this country, in preparation and production of foods but also take punitive actions against the guilty. But such a general warning will not do. It has to pinpoint which products made by which company or factories were responsible for using the banned chemical, putting public health at risk.
This has to be done for the simple reason of alerting the consumers who must have full knowledge of the items in question and who the culprits are, so that they can avoid purchasing and consuming those products. Otherwise, such warnings will only alert the producers not to use the chemicals in a few batches of products before resuming their old habits. Any legal provision is warning enough. Honest businesses never compromise on qualities, particularly when foods meant for human consumption are concerned.
It is exactly at this point, it has to be admitted that the general standard of health, hygiene and sanitation maintained in preparation of foods at the domestic level is not up to the mark. A look at the street foods can be a mortifying experience. Exposed to gather dust and flying particles including flies on such foods, these are also served either in newspaper packets or in utensils washed after each serving from the same water in a tub for hours together. Unless the cooks, chefs, attendants and workers themselves become decently health conscious, it proves a daunting task to raise the health and hygiene standard in restaurants and other eateries. The same applies to commercial food production facilities.
This is, however, one aspect of the problem. The other one concerns rapacious profit motive. Or, how can the manufacturing malpractices resorted to by reputed food brands be explained? A few years back, one of the frontline bakeries in the country was fined Tk 1,800,000 for mixing the stale items retuned from different outlets with fresh dough. Public confidence is shaken if the so-called reliable companies used to setting their price tags at an atrociously high level stoop this low. This is outright cheating. What happens at lower levels of production of food items is anybody's guess.
So the drives launched by mobile courts once or twice a year are not enough. It has become customary to impose fines. But who can guarantee the erring food outlets and manufacturing units will not commit the same offence the next day. They know it very well, for quite sometime there will be no such raid or inspection. If such drives are conducted regularly and, of course, without prior warning, they may produce results. If the drives surprise the facilities a few times, they will think twice before committing the same crime. So, regular monitoring and inspection are a priority here for ensuring food safety.