Fast, Fat and Foul: Karnataka’s new health scare

Kentucky Fried Chicken, a fast food restaurant chain with outlets across India, was fined Rs 10,000 recently by a consumer court in Udupi in coastal Karnataka for serving rotten chicken to a customer, bringing out not for the first time, issues on the quality of food served in fast-food restaurants in the country.  

The accusation came even as consumers are getting more and more conscious and concerned about the quality of fast-food they consume. Even state governments are taking note and in some cases, also taking action. Such as the newly installed LDF government of Kerala, which very recently announced a Fat Tax, largely aimed at foreign fast-food brands such as KFC and McDonalds?    
Fast, Fat and Foul: Karnataka’s new health scare-1While western fast food may be associated with health issues, due to its content, it also has been criticized for the quality of its ingredients.

“Fast and Fat is not a new movie series, but the result of uncontrolled consumption of western fast food steeped in unhealthy fats. Foul is not faraway - The quality of the ingredients used in preparation of their various offerings too is a matter of concern. Inadequate inspection / testing due to a lack of staff and facilities, only compounds the problem. Does the solution lie in the fat tax proposed in Kerala? Or does more need to be done?”


Controversy
 
In mid-2015, New Delhi banned Maggi for using excessive chemicals forcing the multi-national brand to withdraw its products from the market causing crores of rupees in losses. The food regulator, Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) in April2016 asked state governments to launch proceedings against those noodle and pasta producing companies that use taste-enhancer MSG in their products despite carrying “No MSG” or “No added MSG” label on the packets.  

 “A few big-brand fast-food restaurants were in the news recently after the health department in Jaipur inspected various food chains during a quality check drive. Three outlets of leading international fast-food brands, including McDonald’s, were found to have been re-using stale 16-day old oil.”


Rotten chicken
 
An incident involving the the KFC outlet in Manipal took place in December, 2014. Kishan Hegde, a local Congress Party leader, went to the KFC outlet in Manipal and ordered Chicken Strips and Hot wings. When the food arrived, Hegde took a bite. The chicken was “rotten,” he complained.
 
Hegde immediately marched up to the counter and asked for the manager. He later alleged the manager was terse and curt, that he was told by the manager that he was free to go elsewhere if he found KFC food not up to the mark. Hegde claimed in his petition before the consumer court that he was told to “get out.” Hegde had filed his complaint under Section 12 of the Consumer Protection Act alleging deficiency in service. He demanded that KFC pay an amount of Rs.50, 000 towards the mental agony and harassment undergone by him plus cost of the proceedings.  

In court KFC argued that no other customer on that day had complained about the quality of the food and that the only intention of Hegde was to harm the reputation of the restaurant.
 
After a year-and-half the Court in April decided that ‘KFC shall pay the complainant jointly and severally an amount of Rs.1,242 together with interest at 12% per annum from December 23, 2014 till date of payment, and Rs.10,000 as compensation plus Rs.4,000 towards cost of the litigation.The court asked KFC to comply with the orders within 30 days from the date of receipt of the order. Failure to comply would attract penal interest of Rs.100 per day till the date of payment in full, it said.
 
It further said that despite having a clearance from the food regulator KFC failed to prove that food served in their outlets was fit for consumption.

 KFC officials did not respond to questions sent via mail.
 
KFC, again in the dock
 
Many customers go by  brand names  without checking the quality of the food, KishanHegde told Karnataka Today. “We often think it’s just Rs:50 or 100 but we deserve to get good quality food for the money we shell out,” he said.

KFC was in the dock again in 2015 over food it served. According to a media report on the website of a national television channel, KFC rejected a report which claimed that food samples tested from some of its outlets in Hyderabad were found to be unsafe for consumption.The report said a non-governmental organization, Andhra Pradesh Balala Hakkula Sangham, took food samples from five KFC outlets in the city and got it tested at the food safety laboratory run by the Telangana government.

“The report showed the presence of E.coli and salmonella bacteria and was unsafe for consumption,” the NGO claimed. But KFC dismissed the allegations as "false", while questioning the veracity of the lab report.

Shortage of food testing laboratories in state

KFC is not the only restaurant chain which is embroiled in quality disputes. An annual Testing Report (2015-2016) of FSSAI revealed that 2,916 food samples were collected out of which 14% were found adulterated, unsafe, substandard and misbranded. Cases were launched against 59 food product companies and an amount of ?4,36,000 was recovered in fines.
 
Across the country, a total of 20% food samples were found adulterated, while, the figure of neighboring state Kerala and Andhra Pradesh is 17% & 10% respectively.Another 2015 report from the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, out of 2110 random food samples taken from various restaurants in Karnataka, 311 were found to be adulterated and misbranded.
 
Dr. Srinivasa Gowda, Joint Director with FSSAI’s Bangalore office agrees that huge number of cases have come to light in last two years. “I myself have booked 180 misbranded cases and submitted the report to court,” he said.
 
As per FSSAI instructions, commissioners of Food Safety of all states are required to undertake periodical inspection and monitoring of major fruit and vegetable markets, soft drinks and ready to serve beverages to check the use of pesticides in food items.
 
However, as per the latest data,  for more than 2 lakh registered Food Business Operators, there are only six food testing laboratories in the state. Which means, one lab for every 33,000 food business operators in the state.
 
Not just shortage of lab but funds too are primary reasons for weak control on the food industry in Karnataka. “We don’t get funds from central government even when the funds are sanctioned,” said Gowda told this author.
 
As per the Minister of Health and Family Welfare, FSSAI is currently facing a shortage of adequate trained manpower which might be a reason for not checking all fast food restaurants. “We are in the process of recruitment and  vacancies are expected to be filled by end of this year,” said Gowda.
 
The state of affairs is even worse at the national level, for more than 35lakh packaged food producers there are only 166 labs that comes to about 21,000 food operators for each labs in the country.

‘Fast’ growth

According to a media reportIndia's fast food industry will“grow to $4.61 billion by 2020, more than double its value of $2.11 billion in 2014.”

India’s fast-food industry is expanding at the rate of 40% every year. India ranks 10th in the fast food per capita spending figures with 2.1% of expenditure in annual total spending, according to a US government report.”

And though figures are not available, as Indians begin to spend more on fast-food, competition is getting fierce. More foreign chains like Burger King, Wendy's, Carl's Jr. and Johnny Rockets have followed pioneers such as KFC and McDonald’s.
 
Health issues
 
There are an increasing number of food allergy cases, non-communicable diseases, diabetics, heart attacks and cancer occurrences among youngsters, said public health activist Mira Shiva talking to Karnataka Today. “The main reason for these are advertisements, which tempt youngsters to fall for the fast-food lifestyle.”  
 
“Many types of fast-food contain trans-fat mono sodium which is not good for the heart. Big brands like McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are popular with young people. They get hooked to pizzas, burgers and sandwiches and stop eating food which has protein and vitamin,” said Shiva.
 
The implementation and enforcement of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 primarily rests with the states. Random sampling and testing of food products is done by the state officials for ensuring food safety. If the food samples are found to be non-conforming, action as per provisions of the FSS Act is taken.

“Many types of fast-food contain trans-fat mono sodium which is not good for the heart. Big brands like McDonalds, KFC and Pizza Hut are popular with young people. They get hooked to pizzas, burgers and sandwiches and stop eating food which has protein and vitamin,” said Shiva.

Lalitha Subramanyam, Dietitian and nutritionist based in Bangalore said, fast foods are unhealthy because they are rich in fat which leads to obesity and other health issues.

“Any stale food has microorganisms which cause indigestion, fever, diarrhea and infection. While people can avoid consuming them, the government should have processes to ensure food quality.”

A US government report on fast food recommended, awareness on health hazards of fast foods to be taught at schools so as to minimize its consumption. “Parents have to set an example themselves by not eating fast foods and improving home food to support discouragement of fast foods. This would minimize life style disorders among children to a greater extent,” it added.
 
The implementation and enforcement of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 primarily rests with the states. Random sampling and testing of food products is done by the state officials for ensuring food safety. If the food samples are found to be non-conforming, action as per provisions of the FSS Act is taken.

Fat Tax to the rescue?

Kerala has introduced a ‘Fat Tax’, as a measure to tackle the increasing rate of obesity among Keralites. The 14.5% Fat Tax was announced in his budget speech by Kerala's Minister of Finance. The taxed items will include burgers, pizzas, sandwiches, doughnuts, tacos, etc. Fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s Pizza Hut, KFC and Domino's will become more expensive in Kerala. The tax fetch the state government additional tax revenue of Rs 10 crore.  

The concept of Fat Tax is not new. It dates back to 1942 when an American psychologist A.J Carlson sought a fee on each pound of weight exceeding the 'normal weight' limit so as to make food available for personnel deployed at the war front.

Denmark was another country which imposed a 'fat tax' on items like oil, butter, cheese and pizza to tackle obesity. Mexico is another example, where the government recently imposed tax on sugary and fizzy drinks. The United Kingdom has been mulling a Fat Tax for a time.

While the fat tax may reduce consumption, the key to avoiding this new futuristic health hazard is to ensure quality ingredients, prescription of fat contents in the food served and a strict inspection and penal regime.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this article are the personal opinions of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of Karnatakatoday.com and Karnatakatoday.com does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same.

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