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Be careful with your fast food!

Think hard before taking a bite. After a McDonald’s customer found an errant metal clip in her burger, turns out Mumbai food courts are high on money but low on regulations. Rochelle Pinto tells more.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2009 17:35 IST
Rochelle Pinto

Thought that the food court at your favourite mall was a safe place to grab a bite? Think again. After a McDonald’s customer found an errant metal clip in her burger, turns out city food courts are high on money but low on regulations. .

R-City Mall, Ghatkopar
The brand new mall hasn’t got its food court laid out yet, so a Café Bollywood is the focal point for all visitors. Apart from being housed in a corridor with minimal ventilation, walls behind the food counters are stained with dirt and grease.

It doesn’t take more than a quick glance to realise that none of the workers are wearing any gloves, not even the earnest paani puriwallah or the golawallah. We ask the manager whether gloves are part of the dress code and he responds saying, “Of course they’re wearing gloves.”

After realising his mistake, he rephrases, “Only the sandwich guys and the guys who make paani puri are supposed to wear gloves.” At this point, the puriwallah takes offense at the conversation and jumps in. “Do you know how difficult it is to cut potatoes while wearing gloves?” he demands.

According to Amit Khandelwal, the operations manager for Café Bollywood, the restaurant chain has no written rules for employee hygiene. “All of our employees are from the food and beverage industry and are highly educated people,” he insists.

“In the case of R-city mall, it is a temporary establishment. Besides, the staff can’t wear gloves while making sandwiches. It is too difficult.” Really? Why not ask Subway how it’s done.

Infiniti Mall, Andheri
Good news for fans of Gelato Italiano and Subway, they seem to value hygienic presentation. The servers at Gelato are hand in glove when it comes to dealing with customers.. and all tasting spoons are disposed of immediately. At Kailash Parbat, the staff is armed with caps, plastic gloves and aprons.

Though all the food items at Cookie Man are pre-cooked, you won’t be served without a tray, tongs and gloves being part of the bargain. But you really don’t want to know what’s cooking at American Donuts. When we got there, the server wasn’t even wearing his uniform. Ten minutes later, he had changed.. without leaving the counter area. Employees dressing in the food stall? Somehow doesn’t sound right to our ears.

Inorbit Mall, Malad
Flooded with hungry customers, it’s easy to get derailed while working the counters at this food court. Maybe that’s why the staff in Kailash Parbat’s kitchen can be seen without a shower cap or uniform. Jai Kishan Mulchandani of Kailash Parbat explains, “It is possible that you saw one of the delivery boys making a drop. Otherwise there are managers in every restaurant making sure that they maintain a high standard of hygiene and service.”

According to Mulchandani, all employees are trained at the company’s service kitchen in Goregaon where the proper procedures for serving and food tasting are part of the curriculum. The situation doesn’t get better at chaat joint Sanskriti where busy cooks are making puris without the requisite gloves. Is it any consolation that they use only mineral water?

Nirmal Lifestyle, Mulund
The small sprinkling of stalls at the food court doesn’t provide enough excitement. However, the chaat joint outside the ground floor supermarket is eager to make up. The server is busy cutting up produce with the same uncovered hands that he subsequently uses to wipe the chairs and move the garbage bag.

The open trashcan lies behind the counter and a bag of kitchen rubbish isn’t doing a very good job of being inconspicuous. The floor is littered with onion peels and potato skins.. and the mall is only just opening for the day. The server asks what he can prepare for us, but by this time, we’ve lost our appetite.

Phoenix Mills, Lower Parel
The newly extended mall has a food court outside PVR cinema. But as construction work is still underway, you are treated to a view of construction debris and stagnant water puddles.

If you are looking for respite from the humid weather, don’t bother. The food court is outdoors with no extra ventilation. This of course means that the guys at Wraps and Rolls have to slow cook in the heat. But they’re still in full gear, gloves, caps and aprons.

Nearby a Maxx gola stall is attracting quite a few visitors. But despite the sign that screams, “We only use hygienic water”, the golawallah uses his bare hands to crush the ice. Nor does he wash his hands after making each gola.. no, a simple wipe down rag will do. An open bucket of water next to the stall and the dismal lighting conditions aren’t whetting our appetites either.

Previous offender American Donuts does it again by not providing any ventilation for their sweating servers. The small ceiling fan isn’t working, and the guy is forced to constantly adjust his shirt to avoid it sticking to his back.
What rules?

The public health department manual contains a clause marked under Special Conditions that provides for well-lighted and well-ventilated food areas. It also demands that water for storage be placed in a metal water receptacle with a tight-fitted lid.

As far as employee health is concerned, the department requires yearly health check-ups. This is to comply with a General Conditions clause that prevents the engagement of workers who have contagious or infectious diseases.

But executive health officer
Dr Jairaj Thanekar offers no sympathy. “We are short staffed and so it is not possible to check all the food courts in the city. Besides, why are you picking on common people?” he argues. “Do you see five-star hotels keeping to all the regulations?” He backs his comments by insisting that there was enough awareness in the city and since people had not protested, there was “no reason to review the rules.”

When informed of the open-air food court at Phoenix Mills, Thanekar responds saying, “We don’t license out-door food courts.” After warning us not to compare the local rules with those of foreign countries, he sums up his argument vowing, “Print your story, I’ll make sure that half the eateries shut down. And then I will say that it was because of you.”