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Islamabad hygiene drive: Blood, sweat and tears ... in your food

Updated Sep 10, 2015 06:36pm

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We need long-term solutions to our problems, not haphazard actions, which will eventually be forgotten. —Creative commons
We need long-term solutions to our problems, not haphazard actions, which will eventually be forgotten. —Creative commons

The Islamabad administration was on the move yesterday. A plan was conceived, officers gathered, the Director General of Punjab Food Authority, Dr Sajid Chauhan and the famous Ayesha Mumtaz called for a briefing, and eventually, a coordinated action took place against all food outlets in the federal capital.

Many famous hangout places became infamous, infamous bakeries became notorious and factories which had employed underage kids as labourers, sealed – no, not for child labour, but for kneading flour with their feet; mixing, quite literally, sweat, tears and hair in what we have been consuming every day.

The evil does not lie only in the big kitchens where we fine dine; the horror stories lurking in Islamabad's outskirts are equally scary. Nishaa Ishtiak, Assistant Commissioner, Potohar, was out with a team consisting of a Medical and Sanitary Inspector in her jurisdiction, on the fringes of the federal capital.

She sealed four factories and four roadside hotels, and fined a pizza joint for reasons too gruesome for the stomach to handle. Owners were arrested and FIRs registered against the people responsible for producing unhygienic food items.

"Bakery products were laying on the floor next to cattle. These home-made factories are taking Churchill's words to heart and offering nothing but their sweat, tears and blood," said Ishtiak.

Pizza oil.
Pizza oil.
Not paint.
Not paint.

No one really cared for food hygiene and sanitary conditions until recently; well, to be honest, no one really cares for it even now. We are yet to have a system where food outlets are monitored regularly and graded according to a given standard. However, there is word that such a system might actually be under development.

Famous names like Chaye Khana and Savour Foods were sealed, although, word on the street would vouch for the cleanliness of some of these places. Whatever might be the case, in some of these well-known places of Islamabad, a one-of-a-kind coordinated action resulted in near panic among owners of various outlets and businesses, some of whom closed their business and stopped for the day before they could be raided.

Read on: Punjab's food hygiene drive will last only as long as our support will

Whitewash cum food.
Whitewash cum food.
Food (for wasps) – chocolate syrup and pizza.
Food (for wasps) – chocolate syrup and pizza.

The Islamabad Administration usually gives one a view of hopelessness, of lethargy and of nepotism.

Like most government institutions where corruption not only seeps from the cracks below, but also falls down like rain from the very top, the administration has had few well-wishers outside of its barricaded walls. Young and vibrant officers come and are molded into the decades-old ideas of "afsar-shahi," and soon, the famous rods replace proud necks.

Also read: Raids on eateries

There is much excitement about the action in the field, but whether it will bear any fruit in the long run is yet to be seen.

The capital has seen some absurd sudden policies in the recent past, such as the closing of shops at 8pm, then at 9pm, and then not bothering with it at all.

However, we need long-term solutions to our problems, not haphazard actions, which will eventually be forgotten and yield little to no result. It isn't rocket science to mobilise enough resources and create a functioning system of grades and have all food outlets display them on the door.

Well, here is a start. To finally have someone inspect and insure the safety of the health of our children, and our population at large is an extremely important first step. Let us hope it isn't the last.

— All photos by author

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Siddique Humayun is a Policy Analyst and a graduate of Columbia Journalism School.

He can be contacted at siddique.humayun@gmail.com. He tweets @siddiquehumayun.

The views expressed by this writer and commenters below do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.


Comments (42) Closed



rizwan yahya Sep 10, 2015 06:19pm

when in karachi?

Einstein Babar Sep 10, 2015 06:33pm

why our nation is so fond of eating outside, I think 80% people eat outside for entertainment only. Just drop idea of eating outside and public the reason of hygiene only for 1 week, believe me all restaurants will get the right track.

Salim Khan Sep 10, 2015 06:35pm

And then we ask for justice. The problem with Pakistan is that the society is corrupt from bottom to top and this is very troubling.

Anisha Sep 10, 2015 06:36pm

Good article, thank you. We must continue to support this effort and ensure that food inspection becomes a norm everywhere in Pakistan.

Talha Sep 10, 2015 06:39pm

I sadly somehow understand the sweat and hair mixing up in food, but tears? Were those guys crying while cooking? Whatever it is, it is totally bizarre and if this is happening in large cities like Islamabad and Lahore then one can only, or probably can't, imagine the situation in smaller cities and villages. As much as this operation cleanup is worth the appreciation, one can't help but think that these notorious activities must have been happening for a long time, thus on such a large scale. Why were the authorities sleeping earlier? Any way, good initiative by PFA even if late. I have been eating the Afghani Kebabs at Jinnah Super since my childhood and hope at least they have some hygienic standards behind them.

Talha Sep 10, 2015 06:53pm

Nice article. Can anyone please mention the 17 food outlets sealed for our awareness.

Ahsan Sep 10, 2015 07:40pm

Keep it up

Agha Ata Sep 10, 2015 08:02pm

And then . . . there is another view. You can't change half educated, illiterate people and make them educated with scientific way to look at the things during a period of one night or even one year. Government should spend all its energy on educating the masses (which should have been done many decades ago). But before you do that, make sure that the teachers are really educated with scientific way to look at things.

anees from zaida Sep 10, 2015 08:17pm

Isn't it a wonder that we still manage to live for 60-70 years?

Bader Sep 10, 2015 09:09pm

These same people who are closing down these establishments are responsible for this state of affairs. Food establishments have been left own their own for too long without the implementation of health regulations and period checking. These people are so used to this muck that they do not understand why they are being closed down. Closing them down will not help. They need to be monitored and fined for their carelessness and this money should be used to strengthen the food regulatory authorities of the country. Remember, there are Pakistani citizens living in Karachi, Quetta, Faisalabad and so many other cities of this country.

Bader Sep 10, 2015 09:10pm

@anees from zaida Don't forget the number of times you had seek medical help due to food poisoning which can occur from a few hours to over 5 days after consuming unhygienic food.

Bader Sep 10, 2015 09:20pm

The blue drums shown in the picture are used for shipment of dangerous chemicals some of which are difficult to wash out after long storage. Use of these drums should be completely banned in food establishments.

asim Sep 10, 2015 10:25pm

When can we expect teh same in Karachi, Hyderabad???

Yet another Indian Sri1 Sep 10, 2015 10:36pm

Great going. We have similar problems in India and hopefully our FDA looks at some of the basic hygiene standards in a similar way in all our restaurants too.

munsif Sep 10, 2015 10:59pm

my God, even the woimen in villages cook a healthy and clean food

Mahmood Sep 10, 2015 11:10pm

So much gourmet restaurants offering you 'fine dining' touted online and on this very paper.

If this is what fine restaurants in the Capital have been able to get away with, until now, I hate to even imagine what small town and villages may be dishing out to unsuspecting customers! Yuk!!!

LUCKY ZEE Sep 10, 2015 11:21pm

well done. these types of raids are the need of the time and also responsibility of concern authorities.

Skeptic Sep 10, 2015 11:21pm

So that 'extra flavor' in the food, all came from the workers at these eateries?.

God help us!

Muhammad Hashim Sep 10, 2015 11:38pm

Wow. Impressive work. So proud to see the women on the forefront like this. First Ayesha Mumtaz and now this Nishaa Ishtiak. Keep up the good work ladies.

M.Saeed Sep 11, 2015 12:05am

Islamabad is city where fabulously rich live. They are the people who are always looking for the places where they must off-load their over-loaded pockets. Therefore, the eateries are ever ready to oblige them. Now for a reality check, let us start from the most important and most easily available food item, the water. There are over a hundred brands of bottled mineral water is available in the country but, on a recent quality checking by laboratories, about 95% were found to be marketing water unfit for human consumption. Similarly, out of the 65 "Public Drinking Water Filtration Plants" installed by the Government, not even a single is found to be providing safe water for drinking. Now, imagine the plight of the people. This is just water. The first essential ingredient of all foods.

Ashraf Sep 11, 2015 01:30am

Good effort. But how long is it going to last? We need long lasting policies and monitoring.

Rev. Eldrick Lal Sep 11, 2015 02:54am

This is the total depravity of human mind but the real conundrum is how to bring reforms in our society? How can we educate the masses? Telling them that the honest is the best policy.

Pakistani Sep 11, 2015 03:38am

Why don't we have a rating system right across the country from A to D, so public know their food safety level. Their should be a food safety compulsory training before they can open a restaurant, café etc.

These restaurant should be give a chance to rectify the issues before they are closed and shamed.

We should also look at country's cleanliness and hygiene while we are at it.

Scary Sep 11, 2015 05:45am

Brilliant, good things are finally happening. Well done

idrees Sep 11, 2015 06:09am

Great job and well done hope this is not a one time effort hope we come up policies to constantly monitor these food sellers the medical costs pain and anguish associated with hazardous food are immense and would save great treasure ,pain anguish and most importantly human life

yousuf47 Sep 11, 2015 07:20am

Ayesha has caused sufficient panic or awareness amongst the eateries maintaining strict hygiene is essential . The purpose should be to leave a warning offerring instant spot training In handling different foods, frequent change of gloves to be destroyed once removed. The warning should be in no mistaken term of a revisit and if standards remain sub standard, the eatery to face permanent closure. Ayesha should upon a first visit, apart from a warning notice leave a training video with owner/ manager. She would receive more welcome from owners willing to learn than closure of eateries before her scheduled visit to the area. The use of electronic pest control be encouraged, spot checks on road side stalls be included in her quest to improve hygiene, a first in Pakistan.

Dija Sep 11, 2015 08:38am

I highly admire the courage and patience of this lady and her team-we need people like them in all our important positions so that the system can be properly cleaned!

farhan Sep 11, 2015 08:51am

kindly publish the name of those 17 places

SHK Sep 11, 2015 09:25am

Appreciate the effort , hoping this will reach Karachi soon.

Muhammad Arshad Sep 11, 2015 09:40am

Great Work, should be carried out all over country and all year round.

rahat Sep 11, 2015 10:09am

More than 50% of diseases could be attributed to what we eat and 90% of what we eat outside is unhygienic and full diseases.

Hameed Ajmal Sheikh Sep 11, 2015 10:36am

I dont know why people compare Karachi with Lahore or Islamabad whereas Karachi is ruled by its own corrupt Sindh Govt led by Mr. Zardari and Qaim Shah.They are more interested in collecting money for future and their incoming generation which will live in USDA or UK etc.The Punjab Govt is doing something practical led by Shahbaz Shareef and it should be appreciated and Sindh should elect people with honesty dignity free of corrupt Mafia and Batha Mafia and looters.They can catch them by neck to find out where they are spending their hard earned tax money.

saqib uk Sep 11, 2015 10:45am

the government needs to provide more information on which outlets were closed and for what reason so the public can take due precaution. Think people should stop eating out completely for a while and the industry will react to clean up their act to gain the business back again or go out business. Healthy competition, pun intended.

Syed MM Sep 11, 2015 11:07am

There is fecal matter in most foods cooked on the streets. In fact its well documented that much of the vegetables supplied to larger cities in Pakistan have been grown on untreated sewage water.

Khaled Sep 11, 2015 12:22pm

How about requiring that the kitchens of all restaurants of certain category or size be equipped wth CCTV or webcams and developing a system of remote or central monitoring?

MiracleInTheMaking Sep 11, 2015 01:33pm

Much needed crackdown and even more so, we need a system on the lines of the FDA in the US.

yusaf Sep 11, 2015 02:08pm

I challenge if the kitchen of PM house or President house adopt hygiene standards as well, it should also be raided , hygiene basically a culture and religion.

Waseem Sep 11, 2015 02:09pm

I think the city outlets are dirtier villages may well still be cleaner. Villages usually only prepare food for the day whereas restaurants will be doing everything on a mass scale. Its about time this action was taken. We have hygiene problems in UK because when people are not preparing food for themselves they dont care about others

cmh Sep 11, 2015 04:41pm

It's no surprise when government encouraged food street culture driven solely by greed and graft. You cannot copy part of western culture without inspection system and food laws in place.

Moral: never ever eat outside. Devise and implement food standards strictly. However, who cares about food in a country where you can hardly find quality medicine.

Wonder Sep 11, 2015 04:48pm

It's good but too little and not sustainable as we dont have a long term plan to enforce food standards and i donno if we have any such standards. As the writer has rightly pointed out, a system needs to be developed for maintaining food quality in such outlets.

Pakistani Sep 11, 2015 05:17pm

I was in Islamabad last year in October. There is a place in I-10 called Pizza Heaven in the I-10 market. I ate a chicken burger and got food poisoning. I do not eat from outside anymore when I am in Pakistan. God help all of us. Ameen.

Adil Sep 12, 2015 11:56am

The government also must focus on the various factories making cooking oil. It has been told that there are many such factories in outskirts of punjab that are making unhygienic oil which are being used in restaurants, bakeries etc.