With the countdown for 2010 Commonwealth Games already begun and barrage of controversies making it an arena of squabbling rather than a celebration of sporting talent, food has emerged as one sector which can still contribute to the success of the Games.
“We are impressed with the dining hall and the recreation zones around the (Games) village,” was what New Zealand chef de mission Dave Currie had to say about some of the Games facilities. “The food for the athletes is excellent,” exclaimed CWG Federation chief Mike Fennell.
No Indian celebration is complete without a sumptuous spread of food and Indian curries have been ruling the world since decades. So, the need of the hour is to create awareness about food safety. And, Commonwealth Games is a great opportunity to portray Delhi as a world class city, especially when it comes to food.
Last-minute preparations for the event are underway on a very large scale and it is expected that over 6,000 athletes will participate in the Games. They will surely get the opportunity to relish the taste of the best of Indian kababs, lip-smacking meat and fish, mouth-watering biryanis, ethnic curries, and tandoori items. And of course, vegetarian staples like idli, dosa, sambhar, dhoklas, puris and other famous Indian delicacies will also be served in the dining room at the Games Village.
While the foreign athletes and tourists are here for the Games, we must ensure international standards in food safety and hygiene.
I remember once while roaming on the streets of Chandni Chowk – yes, the place famous for its mouth-watering delicacies like kababs, the famous paranthe wali gali and Indian sweets like jalebis – a foreign tourist asked me, “Where can I have some good food?” I had asked him to “go to Haldiram’s”, as I was not sure if the White man would be able to digest the spicy food available on the streets of Delhi.
Delhi has a lesson to learn from Los Angeles. In 1997, a news report titled ‘Behind The Kitchen Door’ brought into focus the problems in Los Angeles’ top restaurants. The TV channel used hidden cameras to expose restaurant employees indulging in unsafe food handling practices such as picking up food from the floor and re-serving it, cockroaches crawling near food, rat droppings or mixing uncooked meat and vegetables.
As a result of the public outrage that followed, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a ‘restaurant grading’ ordinance. Consequentially, restaurant inspection system gave way to a standardised scale ranking with a certain number of points deducted for each violation. Known letter grades were prominently posted at all establishments selling food and all establishments were required to provide a copy of the inspection to any customer on request. After such a measure was adopted, the customers could now step into any restaurant without worrying about the food standards. It was further observed that restaurant grading greatly helped in improving sanitation.
The Commonwealth Games are an opportunity for small and medium scale restaurants in Delhi to get the most out of their business by increasing the number of footfalls.
Flagging off a walkathon and a food safety run at India Gate to commemorate World Food Day, Delhi Chief Minster Sheila Dikshit had recently said, “We want to establish India as a safe food destination during the upcoming Commonwealth Games by adhering to food safety norms at all food serving establishments and at home.”
In a first of its kind move, the government has decided to start rating all food establishments, including small and medium-size eateries, restaurants, dhabas, takeaway joints and fruit supplying outlets on parameters of safe and hygienic food.
The Food and Safety Standards Authority of India has conceptualized a project called ‘Safe food, tasty food’ which is to be implemented at the time of the Commonwealth Games. Under this project, all the restaurants and food establishments in the capital, to start with, will be graded as gold, silver or bronze so that consumers can make informed eating choices. The planned grade or logo will be exhibited by the establishment which decides to be a part of the project. Through this programme, the government also aims to reach vendors that often operate without a license and unlabelled pre-packaged food shops and outlets. Such a ‘food safety’ programme will encourage providers to ensure sanitation at their premises and staff hygiene when handling and serving food to customers.
Apart from that, the awarding of certificates will also restore public’s confidence towards hygiene and food safety at eateries. Further, a directory of safe eating establishments can be distributed among visitors.
Currently, this programme has been successfully executed in countries like Bulgaria, Maldives etc.
But, the grade cards by themselves will not deliver food hygiene; they need to be backed by efforts from the government to ensure that Commonwealth Games are not only a success, but also improve to the well-being of Delhi residents.