In an attempt to halt the spread of food-borne infections currently spreading in the city, the Colombo Municipal Council (CMC) has stepped up inspections of all wayside food outlets including food sold in carts, such as kola kenda.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Assistant Food Inspector, CMC Lal Kumara said from last week, they have been paying special attention to lunch packets sold on pavements and kola kenda (herbal gruel) in carts.
To identify the places where they are most likely to be sold, the Public Health Inspectors ( PHI’s) have gone out in search of them at the crack of dawn when people stop to buy a glass of herbal drink while on their way to office.
“So far we have identified around forty sales points in the busy sections of the city. We found that although the gruel itself is hygienically made, it is served in glasses that are not washed properly, as many of the vendors don’t have access to running water and soap. So they wash them in a basin using the same water several times before obtaining fresh water. This could lead to bacterial infections especially in the case of school children and patients with lowered immune systems”, he warned.
Asked what the alternative to serving in glasses was being recommended by the CMC, he said, “We have told them to use disposable cups that are of the Food Grade.These are available in most shops.They need to ask for them”.
Gruel made with sago ( sau kende) which was another popular morning drink snapped up by workers while rushing to work, could also pose a health risk due to the way it was being served, he noted.
“ Since it is too hot to consume at once, most people ask vendors to pour the contents into a bottle or flask which they have brought with them. If not, the vendors usually pour the hot contents into a plastic bag and tie it with a knot so the customer can take it without spilling. This is a health hazard as plastic contains chemicals that can leach into the gruel when it contacts extreme heat”.
As an alternative to this they should use Food grade plastics which have been gazetted to all food vendors under the amended Food Act No 60 of 1986, he said.
He said lunch sheets, lunch packets and the manner in which take away lunches were being served were also under the microscope due to increasing complaints of health problems in the city.
“ All vendors selling take away lunches on pavements and wayside street boutiques have been asked to write their addresses and telephone numbers on each packet as well as the expiry date and time it was prepared. No lunch should be served three hours from the time of preparation as the contents are likely to be spoilt. Our PHI’s will be visiting the kitchens where these lunches are being prepared to see if they are clean .Those who bring packets from outside the city to Colombo will have to get the PHI’s in their respective areas, to fill a form H800 assuring that the kitchens are hygienic. It is an offence to flout these regulations”, he emphasised.
In the past seven days of the week, he said 25 vendors had been found to have violated the Food Act No 60 of 1980. “ They have been warned and repeaters will be punished”, the CMC spokesman said.