Need to check restaurants serving unhygienic food – Hindustan Times

Restaurant News

Hauling up restaurants that serve bad food has become a little easier for consumers.

Even though the onus of proving that the restaurant served unsafe food is on the consumer, the apex consumer court has said that an affidavit from the consumer would suffice and there is no need for a laboratory test of the food, in order to claim compensation before the consumer courts.

While upholding the award of damages to a consumer, who had suffered food poisoning on account of stale food served at Yum Restaurants, Manipal, Karnataka, Justice V.K.Jain, Presiding Member, in an oral order agreed with the restaurant that the initial onus of proving that the food served was defective, would be on the complainant..

“However, the burden of proof so placed upon the customer cannot be so high that an ordinary customer visiting a restaurant is unable to discharge the same. In my opinion, if a customer files an affidavit in the consumer complaint instituted by him stating therein that the food served to him was rotten/stale/inferior in quality, such an affidavit will be sufficient to discharge the initial onus placed upon the customer, unless it is shown that the complaint is motivated or was actuated by extraneous considerations,” Justice Jain said.

Describing the practical difficulties faced by a consumer in taking out a sample of such food and getting it tested in a laboratory, Justice Jain said such a requirement, therefore, would be “impractical, inconvenient and a costly exercise” and would force a consumer to give up the fight for his right.

In this case, the complainant had given an affidavit about the stale food served to him on December 23, 2014 and also a letter from a doctor who had certified that he suffered food poisoning and was under his treatment for a few days. That was sufficient evidence, the Commission held, thereby clearly defining the burden of proof or the evidence required to be presented by consumers in such cases (Yum Restaurants(India) Pvt Ltd Vs Kishan Hegde, RP No 156 of 2020)

Today, modern technology, particularly the mobile phone and the social media, has empowered consumers enormously. They can take pictures of the food, record conversations with the restaurant owner on the poor quality and present them as evidence. They can also put out the information in the public domain. A video of a dead lizard in the sambar served at Saravana Bhavan in Connaught Place, New Delhi, that went viral in the first week of August, is an example.

However, such visual evidence of unsafe or poor quality food is not always possible, particularly where the food is stale or is contaminated with pathogenic bacteria. In such cases, the only evidence is the laboratory testing of the food or the proof of ill health suffered by the consumer following consumption of such food. In fact in many cases, the consumer may realize that the food was hazardous, only after suffering its ill effects. So in all such cases, the apex consumer court’s ruling will help.

Today, despite a modern food safety law , a large number of restaurants around the country prepare and store food in highly unhygienic conditions, putting at risk, the health and safety of consumers. In June last year, for example, the Food and Drug Administration in Maharashtra checked 10 randomly selected upscale restaurants in Lonavla and found most of them preparing food in extremely unhygienic conditions and using raw materials well post their shelf life, in clear violation of the food safety law.

Results of such special drives and consumer complaints only draw attention to the need for more stringent implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act. Last year, Gujarat had introduced the concept of open kitchens to bring transparency in the cooking process. I do not know the extent of implementation there, but that’s certainly a concept that needs to be incorporated in the food safety law and enforced strictly.

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