GMOF raises issue over poor hygiene and safety standards in fast food outlets

‘Working conditions of employees is also appalling’

The Government Medical Officers’ Forum (GMOF) called on health authorities to be vigilant of the deteriorating sanitary conditions in various multinational fast food outlets in Sri Lanka, which sell fried chicken, burgers and pizzas etc., and initiative action to ensure that food hygiene and safety are maintained.

It is also equally important to ensure the working conditions of local employees of these food chains, Dr. Jayantha Abayarathne, Secretary of the GMOF, stressed in a statement.

A large volume of public complaints continue to flood MOH offices about poor hygienic conditions. Raids by PHIs have revealed that these international chains, which are supposed to keep up with global standards, don’t even adhere to basic hygienic conditions in the storage and preparation of food, it noted.

Most complaints relate to dissatisfaction with the quality of food served. It is the contention of these customers that similar food chains in other countries ensure rigid hygienic and quality standards, while in Sri Lanka what’s dished out, more often than not, are substandard, the statement said.

There are some vegetarian hotels, commonly known as ‘Saiva kades’, which offer better quality food prepared under supervised hygienic conditions. With many fast food outlets, this is sadly not the case. They tend to economize on electricity by switching off the air-conditioning thereby disturbing the temperature within the premises, it asserted.

Recently a doctor who patronized a fast food outlet selling fried chicken complained on their hotline about drinking water not being served. This forced customers to opt for colas and other high sugar/high calorie fizzy drinks as there was no option, the GMOF said.

The doctor’s complaint on the outlet’s hotline was duly noted by an employee with an assurance of a feedback, which never came. In the USA, certain food chains have been sued under such circumstances, but in Sri Lanka, there appears to be no hope of this happening, the statement elaborated.

In another incident, a customer who wanted to write down a complaint and drop in into the ‘suggestions box’ was refused writing paper by the staff saying ‘it’s out of stock’. In another instance, a customer had wanted the staff to call the branch manager to lodge a complaint, but was told that ‘he had gone out’, the statement noted.

An eminent  lawyer who visited an outlet  observed that the counters were manned only by two staff members who had to first take the order, fetch the food themselves and come back to serve the next customer. This resulted in a long queue, the GMOF said.

As the young staff members are dynamic, they work fast, but a closer look would show how badly they sweat under poor air-conditioning. In other countries, where these food chains function, the meals are served within one minute. But, in Sri Lanka many outlets are under-staffed and the overall pricing is almost on par with Europe in dollar terms, the statement said.

A chat with a staff member would show that employees are not only exploited but also harassed at work. The other frequent complaint is the non-availability of change when payments are made. Customers are asked to give ‘maaru salli’ (change) as also evident in the private bus culture, it said.

As many meals are priced Rs. 290/-, 590/- and 990/- , the cashier demands change from customers, which is not in keeping with the practice of internationally recognized, multinational companies, it noted.

The GMOF called upon the DGHS (Director General of Health Services) to order stern action against errant fast food outlets and also launch an awareness campaign on the dangers of consuming calorie-laden junk food and on the other aspects relating to hygiene and substandard food, as raised in this statement.

The GMOF is a registered trade union in the government health sector.

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