LAHORE: The Punjab Food Authority (PFA) has prepared a special food safety audit report of hostel messes, canteens, cafeterias and other outlets of 67 public sector universities of the province, highlighting alarming facts about risks to the health and lives of millions of students.

The PFA took some three weeks or so to prepare the report after several special teams visited the universities and inspected the food points, hinting at possible outbreak of communicable diseases including hepatitis, typhoid and TB due to the blatant violations of hygiene and quality standards.

According to some documents and the PFA officials, the report has pointed out grave violations of standard operating procedures (SOPs) at several hostel messes, canteens, cafeterias of the universities. The report contained photographs and video material to document the blatant violations.

They said, nearly, 60-70 per cent of the food staff/handlers at all the government universities across Punjab were found medically unscreened.

Similarly, 40pc of the products provided at the universities food points were not traceable while approximately 30pc of them had issues regarding traceability [informal sector] of the food products used at the kitchens.

The PFA teams also pointed out several other violations including inadequate premises hygiene, lack of integrated pest management (IPM) measures, and particularly, the staff was not adhering to hygiene protocols.

The PFA had sent a request to the Punjab governor/chancellor to get permission for inspections of the universities food joints.

Following the approval of the Punjab governor, the universities had appointed focal persons to coordinate with the PFA teams during the inspections.

Separately, the PFA had also written letters to the VCs saying that the authority intends to initiate a food safety audit to ensure safe and healthy edibles to the students and other staff.

“The ultimate objective is to make sure that whole food which is being consumed by the people must be safe and according to the recommended hygiene standards”, reads one of the letters addressed to the VC of a public sector university.

“We have sent the special food audit report of 67 universities’ hostel halls/mess, canteens and cafeterias to the VCs of the respective universities while pointing out the grave violations,” PFA Director General Raja Jahangir told Dawn on Monday.

He said the authority has so far identified 197 food points seriously violating the SOPs, risking health and lives of the students and other staff across Punjab.

The report also identified a sufficient number of [food] staffers who were found medically unscreened, saying that they may lead to the transmission of communicable diseases to healthy students.

The DG said it is compulsory for food business handlers/workers to be healthy. No one can work at the food points without getting medical certificates from the PFA, he said.

“Consequently, we have given a one-week deadline to the VCs to rectify the issues, bring improvement and follow the Punjab Pure Food Regulations otherwise, their [food] licence would be cancelled as per law,” he said.

Mr Jahangir said the food points would be inspected after the deadline.To a question, the DG said the authority would follow the same measures at all the private sector universities in the next phase.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2023

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