FDA Chief Seeks Consumer Audit for Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and Uber Eats
Dr Pallavi Darade, a medical graduate working for the Indian Revenue Services, was deputed as commissioner of Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) in Maharashtra during the last one and a half years. Her notable achievement has been, busting the food safety aura that the trendy and extremely popular online home delivery eateries – Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda, and Uber Eats had around them.
 
In the raids conducted on 350 outlets in Mumbai, 112 were found to have `shocking unhygienic conditions’, besides not having registered food licences. Dr Darade speaks to Vinita Deshmukh of Moneylife on these recent raids, the action taken and consumer awareness to make these outfits accountable.
 
 
Moneylife (ML): Your raids on the trendy online food delivery app services, that is, Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda, and Uber Eats are commendable. What propelled you to take this action?
 
Dr Pallavi Darade (Dr Darade): I come from the income tax department where we regularly conduct searches and raids.  The Food & Drugs Administration (FDA) department never used to cover many establishments at a time -- it was limited surveillance. I recently found out that online food delivery services - Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda, and Uber Eats - which are very popular with the young generation, in particular, were doing business online which is fine but what was appalling was these online sites and apps were not following the license conditions required under the food safety act. Now, the terms and conditions of the licence are formulated to ensure that the food be prepared in hygienic, sanitised conditions; that medical reports of persons who are cooking and serving the food be regularly made available to the authorities. In Zomato, Swiggy, Foodpanda and Uber eats, no such system was being followed. In one go, we checked about 350 outlets of Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, and Foodpanda, of which 112 did not have registration license of the FDA.
 
ML: How did you know that these 350 outlets were the vendors of these four online food app services?
 
Dr Darade: We sought from them the list of their vendors. We also collected information online. We found that the 112 outlets did not have the registration licences and so we stopped activities of these 112 outlets immediately. And then we issued show cause notices to Zomato, Swiggy, Uber Eats, and Foodpanda because they cannot get food cooked from people who are not licensed. That is the basic issue and accordingly, we are taking further action. 
 
ML: So what were the conditions that you found appalling?
 
Dr Darade: It was way beyond appalling I would say – it was extremely shocking because every other child today orders food online. Hence, to find the unhygienic and unsafe conditions in which the food was made, was horrible. Though there was this promise that food has been delivered from this or that outlet, many a time we found that the food was actually delivered from just the dhaba which is next to your house from a very small outlet; at times even from homemade kitchens where there were no proper facilities at all; there was no pest control; kitchens were dirty; the  water with which the food has to be made has to be potable water, then the test has to be done to see whether the water was safe or not – that was never done; medical check-ups of people who are serving the food was never done; and extreme unhygienic conditions – sometimes toilets were very close to the kitchens; sometimes dirty clothing was lying around; sometimes the storerooms where raw material was kept was not hygienic – so there were several parameters that we need to apply under the Food Safety Act, which were not complied with and this was the shocking outcome of our searches and raids.
 
ML: Did you also get complaints from consumers about these online food delivery apps?
 
Dr Darade: Yes, we get complaints often because we have offices across Maharashtra; we also have a Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/Maharashtra.FDA1/.); a helpline number (1800222365) and our landline no is 022-265923-63/64/64. So, through all these online and offline support systems, we keep getting complaints. In fact, these complaints were the major ground information sources for us which brought our attention to the seriousness of the issue and made us believe that we need to check it thoroughly.
 
ML: What is the average number of consumer complaints you received after you took over as the FDA commissioner?
 
Dr Darade: I cannot give you the exact figures but we used to receive quite a few of them. We have no objection to online food services but then the kind of transparency that is required is lacking here. You cannot do business on a digital platform and say that we will be archaic in our approach. It has to be very transparent. So we have been appealing to them that they should put up the photographs of the kitchens from where the food is being cooked. Digitally, there is so much of space and that kind of transparency can easily come. Rather than writing how many stars are in the reviews and how the food is and just having a lovely photo clicked and put on the site, they should have the basic things in place which are missing. That is what we brought into focus.
 
ML: But anyway life goes on for them, so what is your action plan? What is the punishment they are going to get to deter them?
 
Dr Darade: We have stopped these 112 outlets from cooking food – that was one big action that we took. Secondly, we have issued notices of adjudication to the management of these outlets, which means, they have been called into action by the FDA by asking as to why they are getting food from people who don’t have the license. In this case, when the adjudication case is over, then on each and every case, they can be levied a penalty of Rs2 lakh each. So, 112 cases – we have till now issued adjudication notices in 50 to 60 cases -- non-licensee cases to Swiggy and Zomato. So, this action will go on. Plus, our parent body in Delhi, FSSI has already asked Swiggy, Zomato to de-list about 10,500 such restaurants which don’t have licences and yet are enrolled on their portals. So, this was again shocking that they had such a large number of listings of unlicensed restaurants. 
 
ML: Do you think this up to Rs2 lakh penalty is a measly sum for them, considering the roaring business they do?
 
Dr Darade: We can’t go beyond the rules that are laid down in the Act. Let me remind you that this penalty is for each and every case, where we can go up to Rs2 lakh. Of course, it will depend on individual cases as the adjudication officer will take into account all the factors to fix the penalty. Plus, the very fact that it has come into the media, makes people aware of it. And this itself is a big jolt for them.
 
ML: So, what is your advice to citizens who get substandard/suspicious food from these online food app services and want to approach you with the complaint?
 
Dr Darade: We have the Facebook page, the helpline, and landline numbers and we have offices in every district. And I think, as a consumer, you should be aware. Plus you should demand from the food portals and the food apps that transparency has to be there. You see, FDA cannot reach every place. I do want to reach but it is not possible for me. The community should be aware and the consumer should ask the service provider who is making food for them – ask them, you are making this dish for me, tell me how you are making, whether you are following these conditions. In fact, in their feedback they should say, why don’t you show me the photographs of your kitchen, why don’t you give some live feedback on the kitchens from where you are accessing my food or where you are making it; so that kind of transparency wherever possible – digitally, is very easy for them.
 
Secondly, our FSSI parent body has advised that all the restaurants should have transparent kitchens. Wherever possible you can have transparent kitchens but at times it is not possible to have them. So, in such cases, what we can do is we can make loyal customers of that restaurant, along with the owner visit the kitchen sometimes, whenever it is comfortable for both. I’m not saying during peak hours but when it is not so hectic and when it is convenient for the owner and for the customer. That kind of transparency will bring in a lot of cleanliness and a lot of accountability. Earning money is fine; people need these services, so give it; but then do it responsibly. Follow the conditions stringently – taking a license itself is not enough.
 
ML: Is it mandatory to have the file of the health record of those cooking and serving food, available for inspection for the customers?
 
Dr Darade: No, it is not mandatory. Visitors can’t come and demand it – but food safety officers can.  It is a right given under the Act to food safety officers. But once people start asking such questions, the pressure will build up for these online food app service entrepreneurs. Plus, whenever these entrepreneurs enrol somebody on their portals, they should check thoroughly whether their vendor adheres to all the stringent norms set by the FDA. However, they are enrolling without doing so which causes the problem.
 
ML: Are all the reports of the raids that you conducted, available on the public domain, that is your website, under the Right to Information Act?
 
Dr Darade: We don’t make it available on the public domain unless it is asked for. So if you apply under RTI, some documents can be made available to you . This also has the `third party’ information in it so we will have to seek their permission before we give the information to the RTI applicant.
 
ML: But this information is of a larger public interest…
 
Dr Darade: Larger public interest yes, but still it is somebody’s personal information. I go to a restaurant; I’m checking somebody’s kitchen, the name is involved. So, if you procure information of any such enterprise and you put it in the press, then it becomes a problem. If the third party gives us the clearance, yes our information can be given. Through RTI, we can definitely give it.
 
ML: We had done inspection of files under Section 4 of the RTI Act in the Pune Municipal Corporation to check food inspection raids in Pune’s restaurants and we were promptly given copies as this information is of large public interest.
 
Dr Darade: That is why we have done the raids. The younger generation is using these online food app services and so their transparency needs to be taken care of. RTI gives you certain rights which you can definitely enforce.  
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COMMENTS

Adheer Pai

2 weeks ago

The link to register a food related complaint on the FDA website does not work.
http://fda.maharashtra.gov.in/food.html (Click Report a Food Problem)

It is not possible to register an anonymous complaint using their Facebook site, since one has to login to Facebook to register use the FDA complaint page.

I hope FDA fixes the link on their website soon.

Debo C

2 weeks ago

Not sure why these Apps should be called into question. These Apps are delivery partners who deliver food from restaurants. Regardless of a consumer ordering food from the restaurants via the Apps or as a walk-in customer, it is the restaurants responsibility to adhere to food safety regulations and it is the food authorities responsibility to monitor and enforce compliance. Govt authorities cannot outsource their regulatory function to these apps, instead they should concentrate on doing their work diligently. We pay the likes of Dr Darade out of our taxes and expectation is that people like her should perform their work diligently and not ride for free on the shoulders of others.

REPLY

Ganesh Johnson

In Reply to Debo C 6 days ago

You are wrong. When Swiggy or Zomato use their brand power to deliver food from an eatery which functions as a "back-end", it becomes their responsibility. If we apply your analogy, then a TV channel can't be held responsible for the content which is shown by independent production houses! Would you hold the TV channel responsible if your child ends up watching porn on TV, or will you hold the porn producer?! I think you should think before your type.

Arpita Padiyar

2 weeks ago

Few months I used to order food from these apps. Stomach upset used to be common. Avoid outside food.Prepare at home if it mean s eating late. Eat fruits if hungry when food is being cooked.

SC revives Centre's Rs. 640 crore class action against Nestle in Maggi noodles case
The Supreme Court on Thursday vacated its stay on the Centre's 2015 action seeking damages of Rs 640 crore from Nestle India limited - the manufacturer of Maggi noodles - for alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements.
 
The class action is rooted in the case of alleged high lead content and presence of MSG (monosodium glutamate) in Nestle's popular Maggi instant noodles.
 
The bench headed by Justice D.Y. Chandrachud today vacated the stay of the proceedings before the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission (NCDRC) that were stayed way back in 2015 as the top court then was seized of the matter.
 
While vacating the stay on the proceedings on the class action by the Centre seeking damages of Rs. 640 crores, the court said the report of the Mysuru-based Central Food Technological Research Institute where the samples of Maggi noodles were tested would form the basis of the proceedings.
 
The court asked the Centre, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Nestle and others to argue before the NCDRC whether the consumers were misled by the company as contended by the Centre in its class action.
 
The Supreme Court had in 2015 put on hold proceedings before the NCDRC after Nestle moved the top court challenging the commission's order directing the testing of 16 samples of Meggi noodles to ascertain their safety for consumption.
 
The NCDRC had ordered the testing of the Maggie noodles in the course of the hearing of the Central government's class action against Nestle India, the manufacturer of Maggi noodles, seeking Rs 640 crore in damages for alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements.
 
The Commission had directed that out of withdrawn stocks of Maggi noodles in the custody of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (of which 100 batch numbers were randomly noted by the local commissioner) 16 samples be sent for testing for presence of lead in any form and of MSG, including their quantity in the samples at the Export Inspection Council of India, Chennai.
 
Appearing for Nestle, senior counsel Abhishek Manu SinghviA said, "The lead
content was found to be within permissible limit and there is some amount of lead in lot of products."
 
Senior counsel told the court that the Mysuru-based Central Food Technological Research Institute has given the finding that the noodles contained lead "within permissible limits".
 
However, the Centre contended that the main issue in the class action was not whether noodles were harmful or not, but the company misled the consumers by alleged unfair trade practices, false labelling and misleading advertisements.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
 
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Can't allow high air fares in the name of deregulation: Parliamentary Panel
A parliamentary panel has recommended to the government not to allow airlines to charge high fares during the festive and holiday seasons in the name of deregulation.
 
"... The committee has taken a very strong view and the committee notes specially that during vacations and festivals, some airlines are charging 8-10 times more," All India Trinamool Congress MP and Head of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture Derek O'Brien told reporters here. 
 
"So our strong message to the airlines, through the ministry (Ministry of Civil Aviation) is that we cannot allow this to happen in the name of deregulation." 
 
According to the Parliamentary panel's other recommendations, airline's cancellation charges should not be allowed to exceed 50 per cent of the basic fare. 
 
"The committee has recommended that an airline cannot charge more than 50 per cent of basic fare as cancellation charges," O'Brien said.
 
"The tax and the fuel surcharge should be refunded to the passengers… Because airlines are charging too much, especially some private airlines."
 
The panel in its report on "Issues related to improving consumers' satisfaction of airlines" which was presented to the Parliament on December 21 pointed out inadequate check-in facilities by low cost carriers.
 
"The Committee specifically pointed out malpractices adopted by low cost airlines like IndiGo. The Ministry, it seems, is following a hands-off approach so far as check-in process and check-in counters are concerned," the report said.
 
"The Committee recommends that the number of check-in counters and personnel deployed at the counters should be directly proportional to the number of flights being operated by the airlines from a particular airport."
 
Besides, the panel said that maximum limit prescribed by airlines, except Air India, for charging excess baggage charges should be enhanced.
 
"... The excess baggage charges, charged by the airlines, are on the higher side. The Committee feels that the airlines should not consider excess baggage charges as an opportunity to increase their revenue apart from their ticket sales," the panel said in the report.
 
Further, the panel observed that "despite the mitigations and mechanism put in place, the Ministry's role in containing the discourteous, rude, arrogant and aggressive behaviour of airlines staff with customers or passengers is far from satisfactory".
 
"Almost all airlines have introduced a 'No-Fly' list for the unruly passengers, but when it comes to the turn of airlines to contain their unruly staff, they escape from their responsibility by saying that necessary training is being imparted upon. It is very essential that the airlines have to adopt consumer friendly approach," the report said.
 
"The Committee desires that the Ministry shall ensure that strictest possible action is taken against unruly staff and heavy penalties imposed on them."
 
In addition, the panel recommended instituting a "proper monitoring system" to check the behaviour of airlines' staff.
 
"The Committee is of the view that the training given to airlines staff should be more effective, intense and thorough. The Committee, therefore, desires that the Ministry shall ensure to provide through training to all categories of airlines staff...," the report said.
 
Disclaimer: Information, facts or opinions expressed in this news article are presented as sourced from IANS and do not reflect views of Moneylife and hence Moneylife is not responsible or liable for the same. As a source and news provider, IANS is responsible for accuracy, completeness, suitability and validity of any information in this article.
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