I recently read in an article that every restaurant in the UK – from the finest Michelin star establishments to the local corner café – is going to be graded with a cleanliness rating. Customers will be able to check on everything from mice droppings to cookers caked in grease, as hygiene levels in the kitchens of all restaurants are detailed on the internet. Restaurant owners will also be asked to display their hygiene record on the premises as part of the “scores on the doors” offensive being promoted by the Food Standards Agency. If the “scores on the doors” take-up is poor, laws are planned to force owners to disclose their rankings at the restaurant.
The move by the watchdog is aimed at bringing down the number of food poisoning cases in Britain and to give consumers more information to help them decide where they eat out. Hygiene ratings already exist in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. India, which records of a large number of food poisoning cases, has been generally negligent about enforcing standards and meting out punishment to offenders even though it has a food and drug administration in place.
The investigation began with the McDonald’s chain of fast food outlets and covered various street food corners, railway station food courts and individual outlets as well as catering services, provided in outstation bound trains.
It’s quite interesting to note that the advent of multinational fast food chains have brought forward a differing perspective on cleanliness and hygiene standards to be maintained by food serving outlets
To begin with two McDonald’s outlets were visited in Vashi – one located at Sector 17 and the other within the Centre One Mall. It was late in the evening and the crowd was just beginning to thicken. At the Sector 17 outlet, there was a small kiddie party going on while the rest of the patrons were either seated or waiting in queue. The boisterous crowd kept spilling soft drinks, tossing crumbs and skidding around in an effort to derive the maximum fun and enjoyment out of the party. The person who was assigned the cleaning was already looking harried and stressed out. Yet the job was being done with efficient regularity. I noticed the gloves were off a few times in between swabs and the uniforms were looking pretty frazzled and messy by the time the party was well on its way. A rag was used to clean up the wet mess and the mop was rotated around the floor smoothly to clean up the rest. There was just minimal soap and water being used. The mop looked dirty to start off with and by the time the job was done it was a dark shade of black. The girl then took the mop back into the restroom area. After a few minutes, she was back with the mop looking a bit cleaner and squeezed well enough to keep the water residue minimal.
My attention then moved to the main counter which fronted the semi-kitchen, formed entirely of racks of reinforced steel. The area was clean and sparkling. All the food handlers wore gloves and aprons. There was no direct skin contact with any of the food items being served on trays. The burgers were wrapped in oil paper and the fries were ladled into Mc envelopes with the help of a spatula. Even though I spent almost two hours observing the whole process I did not see any of the gloves being changed. I made a visit to the restroom which after several footfalls looked quite messy and there was a distinctly strong odour permeating the atmosphere there. I requested the staffer to clean it and she was prompt enough to do the needful without much ado. On revisiting, the place looked far more inviting & clean and the odour seemed to have vanished too.
All food service outlets need to recognise that hygiene issues must be given number one priority for consumer protection. Good standards of hygiene are not a luxury – they must be a fundamental practice.
The same routine was followed at the Centre One outlet which was located on the third level of the mall. Here, the food court had other providers in competition, but the McDonald’s staff seemed the most diligent and cleanliness conscious. The other outlets, which shared the same open space used by customers, did not seem to be very interested in cleaning the tables or dumping the left-behind waste into the baskets provided. The Mc staffer did most of the cleaning and mopping. There were no mechanised cleaners being used – just wet and dry mops and table wipes. I visited several other Mc outlets from Kalamboli in Navi Mumbai to the one in Vile Parle east and found the standards of hygiene and cleanliness much the same all around. Of course, there is still scope for improving standards. However, there was a certain consistency involved in the manner in which the job was being done.
The KFC (Kentucky Fried Chicken) outlets at Inorbit Mall in Vashi and Hiranandani, Powai, have similar cleanliness routines. Despite having larger spaces, these outlets too follow the manual cleaning route. Pizza joints like Smokin Joe’s and Dominos as also the Falafel outlets follow similar standards of hygiene and cleanliness. Reena Francis, a lecturer by profession, loves to try out KFC on weekends. Question her about the cleanliness standards and she says, “I think almost all such multinational chains have a high standard of cleanliness and hygiene. I have no complaints about KFC. Their kitchen area looks immaculate from where I am sitting, their servings are tidy and their staff is always on the go.”
It’s quite interesting to note that the advent of multinational fast food chains have brought forward a differing perspective on cleanliness and hygiene standards to be maintained by food serving outlets. But standards in the Indian outlets still lag far behind.
According to WHO, more than 100,000 food poisoning cases are reported to GP’s every year and this the doctors say is just the tip of the iceberg. Doctors estimate the number of reported cases amounts to just a miniscule percentage of the actual number of those affected by contamination in food
Cannon pav-bhaji stall, a popular eatery bang opposite the headquarters of the MCGM building, has its staff doing everything from chopping vegetables to cooking and cleaning without the use of gloves. The sponge used for cleaning the longish steel table looks like it has seen better days. Drinking water is obtained from a well in the precinct, while the steel plates and utensils are cleaned using axiom cakes.
While the fast food chains imported from the West cater to the upper middle class, joints like Cannon, the zunka bakhar stalls and movable stalls that serve a variety of street food all across Mumbai cater to the lower economic classes and therefore, may have to put in workable systems to maintain cleanliness and still remain affordable to the clientele. On the other hand, in a small country like Thailand, the variety of street food available and the cleanliness standards are incredible. Even the US travel advisories recommend countrymen to try out the street food there as there is no fear of any contamination whatsoever. The food is completely covered, the mobile carts are made of steel and fitted with umbrella shades. They also have separate containers for storing fresh ice water and water for washing utensils. They don’t use gloves on the streets but every food item has its own container & spoon and the contamination is kept minimal as the food never comes in direct contact with the skin of the person serving it. The street vendors are all neatly dressed and well groomed. You couldn’t catch them dead with dirty fingernails or stained aprons. Even the area surrounding the food stall is immaculately kept. The waste bins are covered and you wouldn’t be able to spot a single fly hovering around. As far as India goes, our fast food joints and street foods stalls are yet to generate confidence among tourists or NRIs coming for holidays.
My next port of call was the railway station eatery. I visited the new Re-fresh outlet that was inaugurated a few months back as part of the IRCTC’s new vision regarding upgraded services to be provided for the commuter. The eatery is located adjacent to the public toilet and more often than not it’s in a place that gets permeated by the acrid odour of human urine. Powerful fans have been installed to keep the odour at bay but it’s not effective enough. Relocation might be the only solution. Re-fresh though is quite a pleasant surprise if you can overlook the location. The décor comprises of stainless steel counters, glass enclosures and steel utensils. The food is kept covered at all times and it is reheated & served to the customer. The cleanliness routine though is irregular. You can see visible stains on the tables, the customer leftovers are not cleared off immediately and the mopping exercise is ineffective. The floor looks dirty and stained. There’s very little room for movement within the eatery and at the ground floor level, there are no seating arrangements. Cleaning staff don’t seem to be around much. Though in uniforms, the guys manning the counters and collecting the used utensils seem extremely frazzled and unkempt. It must be understood that the number of footfalls they cater to on any given day is 10-15 times higher than any McDonald’s restaurant in the city. The sheer number of clientele that throngs the counters, renders any concerted cleaning regime ineffective.
Churchgate station boasts of Wimpy’s and several small vendor outlets that serve a variety of fast food like wraps and patties. Wimpy’s, in fact replaced a Chinese outlet which was pulled up by the IRCTC (read interview) and its licence was suspended. Today, Wimpy’s exists in that space. Wimpy’s is more or less a down market version of McDonald’s but the prices are relatively higher. The place is not air-cooled and the fans are inadequate. Food though is served piping hot, there’s just one person moving around to do the cleaning and in spite of the relatively low turnover, he seems to be above his head. The place looks shabby with chipped/cracked flooring tiles and generally tables being kept unclean. The counters are of steel and so are the tables, but the slow cleanliness regime seems to be a problem.
The food court at Bombay Central station has Rajdhani and McDonald’s side by side. The space is large and just one person handles the cleaning up operations at any given time. There’s a high turnover here and despite the self-service tag, the area doesn’t look as clean and presentable as it could have been.
Everybody loves to eat and eating becomes even more pleasurable when the food is hygienic, healthy & safe and is served in an environment that keeps it safe from contaminants. It is all the more attractive when we know that the food is prepared and managed by sophisticated and the best quality machinery and it is ready to eat instantly.
Railway food joints on the ISO track
The Railway’s catering policy was reviewed by a Parliamentary Committee as recently as last year. The constant complaints of poor quality services, over charging, non-working of pantry car equipment, under supply of food, improper and unhygienic cooking methodology, and poor service technique are now a thing of the past. The complaints have not completely stopped, but they are getting fewer and fewer, thanks to some good initiatives undertaken by the Indian Railway Catering & Tourism Corporation (IRCTC).
It was in 1999, the Indian Railway floated the IRCTC with a stated vision of quality, service, cleanliness and value. The service during the last five years has shown some distinctive improvement compared to the earlier 35 years since independence. IRCTC has many plans up its sleeve; the most challenging one envisages setting up of three sets of catering establishments which include static units at stations, mobile units like pantry cars and base kitchens to supply foods to trains in different regions. Besides, it is also setting up food plazas in many major stations. With staff strength of 7000, IRCTC has a turnover of around
र500 crores. It also claims to serve 230 plus trains through 12,000 units across 1,350 stations.
One of the most critical pre-requisites for food security and effective management will be establishing and maintaining of quality and safety protocols that will have to be laid for regular implementation and monitoring. While private players are expected to supply food, the quality and safety responsibility lies with IRCTC to generate the much needed confidence among the travelling public.
Johnson Thomas spoke to Asst. General Manager, Catering Services, Sanjay Chakraborty, to find out how the IRCTC hopes to improve its catering services to commuters, in the years ahead.
What is the catering department’s role in the IRCTC juggernaut?
The IRCTC is divided into zones and the west zone covers Western and Central Railways. Our role is mainly of a moderator and supervisor. First tenders are floated for stalls on platforms/stations. Once finalised, the licensee is chosen and a contract is signed for 3-5 years as the case may be. The licensee is expected to abide by the rules mentioned in the tender document (which incorporate those that ensure food security, cleanliness, hygiene and environment protection). We at IRCTC make sure that these rules are never broken. It’s a difficult ask but we do our best.
How does this work out on the ground?
We have a dedicated team of quality control official – experienced hotel management professionals – who have been given the charge of monitoring and ensuring standards food safety, hygiene and cleanliness, laid down by the IRCTC on certain trains.
This helps maintain uniform standards. Training is imparted to the staff at every level in the mobile and stationary kitchens. Each professional has to do at least 13 such sessions a month covering trains and stationary stalls. These professionals are well versed in the technical aspects of food production, quality food service and other parameters regarding cleanliness and hygiene.
Besides, the job of these professionals also involves educating and training the catering staff so that they can provide standards that the railways expect of them. Usually, the licensee picks their staff from all over the place without any training and they all learn on the job. They may not even have a consistent knowledge. The training would be for one or two hours as the case may be. Waiters would be told specifics on how to interact with a customer; carrying pocket menu cards which has been implemented in the premier trains like the Rajdhani and Shatabdi. The others are also being brought into the loop gradually. We want to ensure that a standard developed process is available to all of them.
What are the standards we are talking about?
We have advised our licensees to get their systems and processes upgraded to ISO standards. This is being carried out in phases so that eventually all licensees will have a compatible and consistent service model in place. All our inspectors have to complete their quota of inspections every month and report back to the corporation. Action is taken in accordance with the misdemeanour. Sometimes we impose a fine and in more crucial cases, licence could be suspended. Firstly we give a written warning and seek explanation, if unsatisfactory, a fine is imposed. Fines are a punitive method of getting the message across to them. Even if that does not work, further action could be recommended.
Is IRCTC an entity in itself?
Yes. All our efforts in catering services are basically collaborative. We are not directly in charge of the sales. We do not have direct control over the pantry cars or the station restaurant areas. But, we are trying our best to get the systems going so that customers can benefit from the improvements in service and delivery. Of course, there are quite a few bottlenecks in the way.
What plans do you have for improving the safety of the pantry cars?
Well, we are planning to make the pantry cars cooking free. We have instructed licensees to set up base kitchens at appropriate stations or its neighbouring areas along the way.
This way the time taken to transfer the food to the train would be minimal. This would be the licensees’ responsibility. We expect them to have ISO certification as well, with minimum health and safety standards in place. They all have to have PSA licences and their staff must have all the appropriate medical licences and permissions from the appropriate municipal and railway authorities.
Does monitoring really take place in the manner it should?
Well. That is a difficult question to answer. We do have staff constraints. We are in fact understaffed, so monitoring is not possible on the scale that we desire. The Railways is a huge set up.
The Railways has its own food safety inspectors over and above ours. They do the job independently of IRCTC. The Railways does not have part-time inspectors for food catering services like it has for ticket checking. It monitors what we are doing as well as what the licensees are doing. We compile lists of complaints sent by railway officers and take appropriate action on them. The monitoring is a continuous and ongoing process but I would not claim that everything is 100% perfect. We are trying very hard to streamline the process as much as we can, shut down bottlenecks and increase the knowledge and competency of people who are working for us. The problem is that things have gone on for years in a certain way and it takes time to educate and change the attitudes thereof.
Does IRCTC run catering services on its own?
Yes. We run the Rajdhani and the August Kranti trains and both these trains are ISO 9000 certified. Even our base kitchens are ISO certified.
Recently there was this decrease in certain food services on board the Rajdhani.
About a month and a half ago, the menu was revised. This was not done by us alone, it was ordered by the Railway Board. The old Rajdhani menu was around 10 years old and it certainly was time that we had some changes incorporated.
Ten years ago, Rajdhani used to take 22 hours to reach Delhi, now it takes only 17 hours. The time frame has decreased but the quantity of food and the intervals between servings remained the same. We incorporated changes recommended by the Board and increased the intervals between servings because some people were unhappy at being disturbed constantly. This way some other people were unhappy. We had announcements made on the trains explaining our position and even sent our officers on board for a whole month to explain to the passengers. If the passengers demand that a few services be reinstated, we do not have a problem doing that.
Do you plan to customise services?
We already do that to a certain extent but things will improve on a larger scale in the next few months. We plan to have such selections included in the ticket itself so that it’s on record and we are sure of the quantities we have to cater for. We do provide continental food for foreigners who travel in the first class. If there is a child on board, then sometimes depending on the availability, we do make exceptions.
What about waste disposal? How does that happen?
Rajdhani has two designated drop-off points, Surat and Kota. Cleaning staff designated at these station come and collect the garbage which is piled up in plastic sacks.
Is there a system for recycling the garbage or even segregating the waste?
No. Not at present, but we hope to have something soon. At least from our trains we ensure that no garbage is thrown on the tracks. For licensees, their food pick up points are also the garbage pick up points. But that is not fully effective because it is easy for them to just dump it wherever. Our QCPs monitor whenever possible but training is much more important here.
How is the catering at the stations handled?
Many of the refreshment stalls and mini restaurants have been taken on from the Railways on an as is where is basis. And they have contracts that go on for years. Most of these people are ex-railway staff and relatives. When we try to enforce the guidelines, they file cases against us. There are quite a few cases pending in this regard. The new tendering is in the region of 15 to 20 %, the rest are basically out of our hands. For the new ones, we are strict with our guidelines and enforce all the laid out parameters.
Re-fresh eatery at CST station is located close to the public lavatory…
We have no jurisdiction in that area. We cannot choose or demand spaces from the Railways. The spaces are already designated by a joint committee formed by members of the IRCTC and the Railways. The Re-fresh space was used by a canteen earlier. Re-fresh is in fact one of our new licensees.
I agree the toilet it is a health hazard. We need to have a force of opinion with us to get the Railways to accept such changes. We will try and take this issue forward.
You had a problem with one of the licensees at the Churchgate station recently?
We did have a problem with the Icase food plaza that ran Chinese restaurants there. One of their base kitchens was designated as a food pick-up point which was contravening the rules laid down by the Railways and the IRCTC. We had an inspection done and we were told that the necessary changes would be incorporated. But once they restarted the service after the changes, we still found that they were not complying with all the rules and regulations. They had only one entrance which also doubled as an exit. None of our recommendations regarding requirement of stainless steel table tops, containers, cooling equipment, insect electrocutors, proper ventilation, exhaust apparatus, etc., were adhered to. After the imposition of a fine and closure for a certain period, they came back saying they will set up the base kitchen in their own facility and transfer the food to the plaza. Now Wimpy’s is there in its place. We continue to be vigilant, try and educate & help them come up to the standards that we expect. We can’t always take action as there are far too many unresolved issues that come up as obstacles.
What are the future plans of IRCTC?
There certainly is a long way to go for us. We have to continue to strive for the betterment of services to the public and for this, we are laying down a whole series of guidelines especially in the aspect of employing qualified personnel and having necessary training apparatus to shore up the knowledge and experience which could be implemented in the next few months. We are also trying to get all the licensees ISO compliant. ISO itself has certain established standards and protocols and this we think will ensure a clean, hygienic, consistent, quality conscious and secure service to the customer.
Fast Food, Safe Food…
After visiting some of the major fast food joints in Mumbai, Mohana interacted with McDonald’s India to understand the international standards maintained at its outlets in India
McDonald’s in India is a joint-venture partnership with two companies, one with Connaught Plaza Restaurants Pvt. Ltd for the Northern & Eastern region and another with Hard Castle Restaurants Pvt. Ltd for the Western & Southern Region. World over, McDonald’s follows the philosophy of QSCV – Quality, Service, Cleanliness and the overall Value that the customer gets out of it.
“Cleanliness and hygiene are aspects that are adhered to diligently and we are proud of the standards we maintain,” said Abhijit Upadhye, Director-National Supply Chain, Menu Management and New Business Channel. Right from the equipment used in the kitchen, the staff, products received from the suppliers to the ambience and flooring of restaurants, meet the specified standards set by McDonald’s worldwide.
Food safety is one of the most important aspects emphasised on. “We have to follow specific guidelines & protocols and a complete checklist to measure the safety of each product manufactured and supplied. Like a chicken product, if the temperature at which it is received by the supplier does not meet the specification, it is rejected, as it may not be safe.” During the production process, there is a potential risk of contamination at multiple points – the way the product is mixed, the way it is stored or the temperature at which it is transported. All these are monitored very closely.
McDonald’s defines this system as a three-legged stool. “There are three important legs and even if one leg is not strong enough it will affect the brand very strongly.”
- Corporation, which is a brand in itself
- Owner of the operators, i.e. one of the joint ventures or franchisees which operate the restaurants,
The suppliers form the most important leg and the entire supply chain operates within parameters. The supplier, who has to follow the HACCP, makes the product according to specifications, maintains within specified temperatures and stores in a specified manner. There are products which are maintained at -18 o, which renders microorganisms inactive. The product is monitored on an hourly basis 24×7 and transported to the outlets on approved trucks. Small things, like having plastic or wooden pallet at the base, are taken care of. “Even though the products are packed in cartons we ensure that it is not kept on the floor of the truck.”
The uploading and downloading again are done by authorised staff – the driver and helper – who are trained specifically in the hygiene area and in checking the temperature of the product. Checking temperature in itself could begin the risk of contamination down the production chain. Hence, they are trained in aspects like wearing gloves and to first sanitize hands while using a temperature probe. “These are the smaller trainings that we give to our people to ensure that no where in the
entire supply chain is the integrity of the product is
The restaurant is the last leg of the supply chain where the product is finally received. Again during the entire process the QIP (Quality Inspection Programme) is followed where at every junction the defined handler either measures or checks the product and only if it meets the said criteria it would pass to the next step in the value chain. At the restaurant, the temperature is monitored. “While the product has gone through the entire value chain in a perfect condition, the proof of the pudding is when it is sold to the customer. So the DPSC (Daily Product Safety Checklist) is followed at the restaurant, where the restaurant manager and his team ensure that before the restaurant opens to the customer, everything in the restaurant is cooked and checked for quality food safety parameters as specified.”
Once checked, the findings have to be recorded in the book daily. This is done 2-3 times in a day – before the customer walks in, during the afternoon and towards the late evening.
From a quality perspective, “McDonald’s strongly believes that a customer visits the restaurant because he likes the burgers or he likes the fries and not because Mc Donald supplies HACCP approved products or got ISO Certification. Hence sensory appeal is an important part of our product. We have a very strong sensory programme which lays down how the product should look and taste. I do a monthly check with my suppliers and also send some of the internationally approved products to my lab in Hong Kong so that they too can measure its worldwide standards. These products have to taste same no matter from where the customer is getting it. All these programmes ensure that my product is absolutely safe, clean and hygienic.”
According to Upadhye, while cooking chicken, unless the internal temperature goes beyond 165 degree F, one can’t say for sure the chicken is safe. From outside it may seem to be hot but internally it has to meet the minimum temperature and the guidelines McDonald’s has set for its product.
Each morning, the manager checks the internal temperature of the product and here is where the specified equipment plays an important role. If the probe test shows that the temperature is not being met, then the heating element in the fryer is not right. Every product has time and temperature set, at which the product gets cooked.
The staff at the restaurants are just graduates or even undergraduates. For them it is very easy to just press the set buttons which activate the fryer to the desired temperature and when the buzzer rings, it means the cooking is done. Within that time, the product has to reach its specified internal temperature. If the equipment is not working fine then the chances of the product not meeting or inconsistently meeting specified temperature is likely. “It means I’m running a huge risk in the system. From a probability perspective, 99.996 times we meet the desired temperature norms and that’s the highest one can reach. If we find after multiple checks, there is a variation of 99.995 in any product, we would not recommend the product to be served.”
There is a specific schedule for maintaining equipment followed by the restaurant manager. They are checked on a weekly or monthly basis and certified by the QA department. The checklist is signed by the restaurant manager every time he checks and is made available to the supervisors from the HO as and when they come for inspection.
“Equipment over use will also start getting dirty and a strong cleanliness programme is in place. We work with few approved companies worldwide who provide cleaning chemicals. We work with JohnsonDiversey in India, who provide cusotmised chemicals for us. We have McDonald’s hand wash, McDonald’s grill cleaner, etc.” Scheduled programmes have been developed with specific instructions on the dispensing pump or sachet stating the quantity for every use. For example, every time the grill is used to cook a patty, there is a specific procedure for cleaning the grill. Soon after removing the patty, the grill has to be mopped using the grill cleaner.
“The scrapers and the grill cleaner ensure that every time the equipment is used, it is cleaned as well. There are two reasons for this – if not cleaned, something could get accumulated and diminish the performance of the equipment. Hence, the next round of patties laid will not cook as effectively. Second, if there are any sediments or particles of the previous patties, it could also potentially hamper food safety.” So every time the equipment is used, it is cleaned too. At the end of the day, the grill is cleaned thoroughly using chemicals.
Since all these cleaners are customised, the doses are standardised and it becomes easy to use. If anything new has to be introduced within the system, it goes through the religious round of checks by QA and store operations. The chemicals are mainly tested to ensure they are non-hazardous to the user, effective and less time consuming.
Clean as you go
Each one is responsible for the space one is working at. Every time something spills, either the person working at the table or someone around use kitchen towels to clean up. The towels used are again colour coded and used in rotation. Clean towels are immersed in a bucket filled with sanitized water. Every half an hour the cloth is replaced with a new one. Green bordered towels are used for the vegetarian section and red for the non-vegetarian section. To maintain segregation, workers are clothed in different colours and do not mingle with each other and the equipment used for cooking are separate.
“Even outside in the lobby, we ensure that the person using the bucket and the mop is regularly cleaning the table and the floor.”
Finally, from the people’s perspective things that could potentially lead to food safety is the handing of the product. “Anybody handling food have to wear gloves.” There are two types of food
- Raw food one that is coming from the supplier and going into the fryer
- Fried food which is going into the assemble line.
While handling these foods, different coloured gloves are used – blue for raw food and transparent or white for cooked food. Inside the kitchen one can see everyone wearing a hair cap or a hair net to ensure hygiene. Gloves are changed periodically as the palms could sweat and anti-microbial hand wash is used by everyone after a bell that rings every half an hour.