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LAHORE: The Punjab government is going to put up a notice outlining hygiene standards on entrances to all eateries to sensitise customers, and make sale of unhygienic food items a cognizable offence punishable with more stringent imprisonment and fine.

This is all being done by amending the Punjab Food Authority Act 2011, official sources said on Friday.

Officials of the food authority constituted under the act were already after eateries in Lahore, forcing their owners and managers to protest against what they called sabotage of their business.

The new measures had been designed by the Chief Minister’s Special Monitoring Unit (Law and Order) headed by Salman Sufi in collaboration with Punjab Food Authority Director General Dr Sajid Mahmood Chauhan and with input from EU-funded Trade Related Technical Assessment Programme (TRTA). Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif has also approved it.

According to sources, the government is going to fix a minimum imprisonment of 30 days and a fine of Rs10,000 for a minor offence and over Rs100,000 for a major offence under the act. The maximum fine is also being enhanced from Rs1 million to Rs2 million. All offences will be cognizable, authorising police to arrest the offender.

Currently, police cannot arrest an offender under this law, which does not provide for a minimum imprisonment or fine. It suggests imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding Rs1 million.

Sources said a grading system was being introduced after assessing loopholes in the current system of food inspection, which relied heavily on on-site inspection, equipment seizure and fines with no real input and participation from citizens.

In the new Restaurant Grading System, people would be made a direct decisive force to implement food quality standards by choosing to go to an eatery based on the grade assigned. Food safety inspections would be made in two phases.

Eateries to be graded; selling unhygienic food to be made cognizable offence

In the first phase, stealth food inspectors disguised as customers would take pictures of the restaurant and collect food samples, which would then be sent to the accredited labs for testing. Official inspection would be conducted in the second phase. Restaurant inspection score would be based on the food inspectors’ report and official inspection.

A comprehensive score point-based criteria would be established and given to the food inspectors during their routine checking. They would give points in each category for checking the overall quality of a restaurant, including but not limited to sanitation, food handling, food ingredient supply quality, cooking temperature, food preservation, adulteration of ingredients, rodent and pest inspection, infrastructure and quality of water used in food preparation.

Based on the scores received post inspection, sources said, a restaurant would be awarded a grade from A to D -- ‘A’ being highly hygienically maintained and ‘D’ being the lowest.

Sources claimed this grade would be the primary tool for citizens to select a restaurant based on the quality and hygiene of the food as opposed to its ambience. It would reward a law-abiding food outlet owner for providing hygienic and healthy food to customers.

Specialised security sealed stickers from the Punjab Food Authority would also be pasted at the entrance to restaurants with the respective grade on it. Restaurant inspection results would be posted on the Punjab Food Authority, health department and City District Government Lahore websites for people.

Laboratories established with the food authority would conduct regular tests on food samples and issue warning notices or fines to offenders.

Published in Dawn, July 11th, 2015

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