People's expectation for safe food cannot be met overnight, said the chairman of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority (BFSA).
“But it cannot be said that nothing is being done,” BFSA Chairman Mohammad Mahfuzul Hoque told The Daily Star in an interview recently. There will be no positive long-term outcome if quick measures are taken, so the BFSA has taken on a proactive approach to ensuring food safety from farm to plate.
So far, the BFSA, which began its journey on February 2, 2015, has set up 71 safe food courts across the country, framed eight rules -- pertaining to labelling, contaminants and toxins, and the use of additives in food -- and given nod to 10 local labs for testing parameters.
Through mobile court operation, the BSFA also filed more than 4,200 cases, fined offenders and sent some to jail. It banned the import and use of meat and bone meal for feed and took measures to stop the sales of drinks in the name of energy drinks, among others.
The BFSA wants to bring about qualitative changes, which are not possible overnight, Hoque said.
“We have to train our people on good production practices. We frequently see excessive use of pesticides and chemical fertilisers in farming and the produce are harvested before the required interval period. As a result, the residue remains.”
The use of unauthorised chemicals, antibiotics, steroids and hormones; unhygienic preparation of foodstuffs in restaurants; the sales of street food in insanitary conditions; and the use of artificial ripening agent for fruits are the other challenges to food safety.
Another major challenge is ensuring coordination, Hoque said.
The BFSA works with other agencies such as the departments of fisheries, livestock and agricultural extension to ensure good production practices.
Recently, the BFSA has taken initiative to grade restaurants on the basis of quality of food and the overall hygiene of the establishments, particularly in the Motijheel area.
As part of the system, coloured stickers -- green, blue, yellow and orange -- will be used to signify the grades of A+, A, B and C respectively awarded to the restaurants after scrutiny. A+ would mean excellent, A good, B average and C grade pending.
The BFSA graded 57 restaurants, including 18 excellent, as good.
“When consumers become conscious and stop eating at low-grade restaurants, owners will be compelled to improve their standards to attract customers,” Hoque said, adding that the BFSA is suggesting each establishment make a food safety plan.
It has also taken a step to make street food safe. It has built three street food carts and trained the vendors.
“People are eating with interest and the owners are logging in higher sales now than in the past,” Hoque said.
The BFSA also runs campaigns to raise awareness along with observing February 2 as the National Safe Food Day.
“I am happy that people now realise that food safety is important. Once I had to explain to my colleagues about the work I do. Today, people, including the uneducated ones, are aware about food safety,” he said.