Cheer­ing for the Punjab Food Au­thor­ity

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Adiah Afraz

WHO would have thought that some­thing as un­ro­man­tic as a gov­ern­ment depart­ment with a name as un­ex­cit­ing as the Punjab Food Au­thor­ity would overnight be­come the new hot sen­sa­tion for the hero-wor­ship starved peo­ple of Pak­istan. But ever since Aye­sha Mum­taz, di­rec­tor oper­a­tions Punjab Food Au­thor­ity (PFA), started con­duct­ing raids on the eater­ies of La­hore, this is pre­cisely what has hap­pened. As im­ages of rot­ten veg­eta- bles, un­hy­gienic kitchens and filthy stor­age spa­ces ap­pear on media, ac­com­pa­nied by of­fi­cial PFA state­ments declar­ing war on con­tam­i­nated food, La­hore sud­denly wakes up to the ar­rival of a new mes­siah - and the most ex­cit­ing thing is that this time the mes­siah is a woman.

Aye­sha Mum­taz, has be­come an overnight hit for La­ho­ris as her name is now be­ing used by all and sundry to in­stil the fear of God in the hearts of all those who cook, bake, steam, braise or broil for profit. Be it res­tau­rant own­ers, wait­ers, man­agers, or staff at public eater­ies, all you have to do is threaten them with 'a call to the food depart­ment' and the re­ward is in­stan­ta­neous.

So let's celebrate this while it lasts, be­cause when was the last time any­one was ever scared of any­thing per­tain­ing to a gov­ern­ment depart­ment and the process of ac­count­abil­ity? The com­plaint could be as big as a case of food poi­son­ing in­flicted on a fam­ily of 39, and as small as a tiny bug smeared on top of a sealed wa­ter bot­tle. All one has to do is talk to the man­agers and ex­plain to them one's newly found rights as a food con­sumer in the province of Punjab. And one of those rights is the right to make a call to the PFA hot­line. Not only would one get an un­con­di­tional apol­ogy and a scur­ry­ing line of man­agers wait­ing to note down one's con­cerns, but there would be com­pli­men­tary fol­low-up op­tions and prom­ises of in­stant rec­ti­fi­ca­tion. And why not? Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures, so far 5,500 eat­ing places have been raided by the Punjab Food Au­thor­ity at its own ini­tia­tive, out of which 250 have been sealed and 2,500 have been served no­tices. This is def­i­nitely bad for the busi­nesses, their rep­u­ta­tion built over years, and fu­ture prospects in an ex­tremely com­pet­i­tive in­dus­try. The heart­en­ing part is that places sealed or fined are not re­stricted to small-time food joints but in­clude big giants of fast food, five-star ho­tels, some very pop­u­lar restau­rants and quite a few posh eater­ies. The ge­o­graph­i­cal dis­tri­bu­tion of these raids is also wide­spread and not re­stricted to any one area. What this says about our food stan­dards is another de­bate, but this space is ded­i­cated to the good work done by Ms Mum­taz and her team. I con­sider it very im­por­tant to high­light this won­der­ful work by Aye­sha Mum­taz not only be­cause of the gen­der­based affin­ity I feel with her and the con­se­quent recog­ni­tion of the chal­lenges of her job, but also be­cause this work is very sig­nif­i­cant for the preser­va­tion of La­hore's cul­tural iden­tity. La­ho­ris have an insep­a­ra­ble con­nec­tion with food and hos­pi­tal­ity. Eat­ing out not only serves as a means of en­ter­tain­ment but is largely part of the city's ethos. Pro­tect­ing our eater­ies as cul­tural places is part of pre­serv­ing our com­mu­nal iden­tity. In this con­text the fight against con­tam­i­nated food is a very sig­nif­i­cant move­ment and this move­ment shouldn't stop here. We need to give credit where credit is due and do it with an open heart. Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial state­ments CM Punjab has al­ready taken per­sonal in­ter­est in fur­ther­ing the cause of food safety by call­ing for stan­dard op­er­at­ing pro­ce­dures to grade eat­ing places ac­cord­ing to food safety in­di­ca­tors.

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