Rotten fish, dirty plates in eateries.

Eating Dangerously.

Rotten fish. Dirty curry. Chickens bought dead before cooked. These sound like the contents of a garbage bin, but in fact they are foods commonly served in the city’s restaurants, which have become, due to poor monitoring and substandard hygiene, breeding grounds for harmful bacteria.

There are more than 5,000 restaurants in Dhaka City alone, but the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) registration lists only one thousand. The quality of food at these establishments is supposed to be monitored by the sanitary inspectors of the DCC. But with only 18 inspectors for the whole city, the DCC is hardly capable of doing its job, sources said.

Rotten fish, dirty plates in eateries

A restaurant employee marinates chicken while another right behind him sweeps the floor.
Photo Source: The Daily Star.
As a result, the hygiene in most open-door restaurants is generally substandard, since restaurant owners often do not clean plates, glasses, and spoons properly, while the water is obviously dirty, as the supply from Wasa is not free of Coliform, a harmful bacteria. Rotten fish, meat from sick cattle, and spoiled vegetables are likely to be among the foods dished out each day in the city’s restaurants. And it is not uncommon for buffalo meet to be served as ‘beef’ in many restaurants.

Recent studies have also revealed that other dangers – these invisible to the eye – are also lurking in the city’s restaurants. Professor Golam Mowlah, the director of the Food and Nutrition Institute, University of Dhaka, said his students found in a recent survey Escherichia coli (E-coli), Salmonella, and Shigella bacteria in restaurant food and street foods in the city. Eating such dirty food may cause diarhoea, dysentery and other diseases, the director added.

“Finding bacteria is very common in the restaurant foods. But the more alarming thing is that the restaurant owners do not throw out the oil left in their everyday cooking, using the same oil the next day. After using the oil day after day, the per oxide value of the oil increases and it becomes toxic ultimately,” said Professor Mowlah, director of the Institute.

As most people eat adulterated and oily food from restaurants, suffering as a result from gastric problems, Renitidine has become the second highest selling medicine item in the country.

It is difficult to document first-hand the conditions inside restaurants, since owners of both open and closed-door establishments do not allow anybody to visit their kitchen. But interviews with waiters from different restaurants revealed that many restaurant owners frequently mix rotten curry with food the next day.

“We do not throw out anything. But even in homes, nobody throws out the excess curry. Mostly people preserve it and eat it the next day,” said one of the waiters working in a restaurant in Chankharpul.

Public concern over restaurant food has risen considerably in recent times, after the police caught traders selling dead hens a couple of times in last month alone. The apprehended youths admitted to police that they were supplying the dead fowl to different restaurants. Despite public awareness and a police crackdown, however, people continuing buying and selling dead hens in the city, witnesses said.

The problem, as with many aspects of government-regulated food inspection, stems from a lack of manpower and the absence of a sound regulatory system.

“According to the law, we do not have any benchmark of standard about the restaurant food,” said Foyez Ahmed Khan, the chief sanitary officer of the DCC. Inspectors are authorized to inspect the kitchen of a restaurant, but there is no specific law stating how restaurant food should be prepared. The food, however, is merely inspected with the senses, not examined through scientific diagnosis because such equipment does not exist. “If someone cooks dead chickens, we do not have any technology to detect it. We just see the environment of the kitchen of the restaurants and the hygienic status of the waiters,” he added.

Restaurants fall under Section 6(1) of the Pure Food Ordinance of 1968, which sets minimum penalties for adulterated food set at Tk 300 and rigorous imprisonment for three months, and maximum penalties at Tk 1,000 with six months imprisonment. Experts say such low penalties render the law ineffectual. The government meanwhile is planning to formulate a new set of laws.

Proper monitoring is, meanwhile, pragmatically impossible since there are 18 inspectors to cover all 5,000 restaurants in city. The national picture is much the same, as the Health directorate has only 421 inspectors to monitor the thousands of restaurants throughout the country.

Sources add that many inspectors are simply negligent in performing their duties, allowing foul and rotten food to proliferate throughout the city. “Health officers hardly inspect the restaurants other than going for ‘another aim’. Mainly the restaurant owners are operating without any monitoring as the government is not hard on this matter,” said one official from the department of health, requesting anonymity.
Source: The Daily Star.

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