While other countries have adopted advanced and practical techniques for on-the-spot testing of food to be served to the VIPs, in India, the age-old practice of 'lesser mortals' sampling the food continues and it is expected to remain in vogue for years to come as the revised food safety legislation is silent on the issue. Same tradition is followed even if the VIP is country's President or Prime Minister.
Whenever a VIP comes calling, government officers, be it executive magistrates or doctors, are made guinea pigs to sample the catered food. They are required to certify that the food is fit for consumption. If the food has been prepared in a house, the owner has to sign the list of items he or she plans to serve. An hour or so ahead of the VIP visit, a team of the health department arrives at the venue to complete these formalities and to collect samples, which are hardly sent to the state testing laboratory. A layman can also test the food but for more reliability, the officials are chosen as food tasters.
The whole exercise serves little purpose. Even if the food is unhealthy, it is difficult to make it out in the short time that falls between testing and consumption. The samples are preserved for 72 hours and if it does not create any health problem to consumers, it is destroyed, else the samples are sent to the laboratory, the need for which hardly arises.
"It is an old tradition, which we cannot change on our own. Whenever the tour programme of a VIP is intimated to us, it is obligatory for us to make arrangements for food testing," said a senior medical officer.
"Since no VIP has ever fallen ill after consuming food, our government has never given the matter a thought," remarked another senior officer. Senior medical officer Dr Sardul Singh said the government must provide testing kits for instant examination of food.
Director, ESI, HPS Bali, who is in-charge of the food administration, said the directorate had recently written to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to intimate the state about the latest norms as regards sampling of food for the VIPs. "The current practice of food sampling is fair enough. We take care of the kitchen environment also make sure that the cook concerned maintains personal hygiene and is in good health. This is what matters the most," he said.
He confirmed that there had not been an instance when the food meant for VIPs had to be examined at the laboratory.