A shocking discovery
Many of our readers no doubt would have received with
shock and consternation the main story in yesterday’s edition of
the Daily News which shed light on the horrible state of Colombo
city’s hotels and eating houses. Today these so-called eateries
have mushroomed in every corner of the city with a good majority
of them purveyors of disease and epidemics. It is time that a
comprehensive probe is carried out into the operation of these
catering services before the situations gets out of hand.
According to CMC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Prasad
Kariyawasam over 60 percent of the Colombo city hotels flout the
Food Act and established food practices. They have failed to
obtain medical certificates on workers’ personal hygiene and
continue to violate established food safety practices.
According to him out of 550 food outlets in Colombo (from
Five Star hotels to eateries in Pettah) only 220 have obtained
certification from health authorities to ply their trade. The
most shocking disclosure however is that a majority of hotel
workers were found to be afflicted with typhoid, diarrhoea and
hepatitis and other diseases.
We are at a loss to understand how the city health
authorities allowed such a state of affairs to continue
considering that by his own admission. Dr Kariyawasam says that
several years back a CMC study found that 30 percent of all
hotel employees were affected with hepatitis and undergoing
health checks had been made compulsory for employees of food
outlets. Were these health checks carried out with due diligence
and continuously? Certainly not, judging by the latest
Little wonder that Colombo city has topped the list as the
centre with the highest incidents of epidemics such as dengue
for several years running. True, the city of Colombo has its
unique problems unlike other districts. To begin with there is a
floating population of over one million people within the
Colombo city at any given time. Needless to say the demand to
cater to such a population will naturally tend to overlook
health concerns and standards of hygiene.
Also ignored are standards of recruitment of employees with a
majority of them hired on a short-term hire and fire basis by
hotel owners taking advantage of their economic plight and not
paying any attention to their health conditions. A majority of
these employees naturally given their poverty and deprivation
and consequent lack of healthcare and medical attention harbour
diverse ailments and diseases posing a grave danger to the
public patronising city hotels and eating houses.
Compounding the situation is the present day tendency of most
households working in city to ‘eat out’ given the pressures of
work and caught up as they are in the perennial rat race of
today all of which means boon time for the hoteliers and eating
houses who cannot afford to indulge in such niceties such as
looking into the hygiene and medical records of their recruits.
Today it is all too common to see so-called eating houses
lying cheek by jowl against each other in cramped space
sometimes abutting filthy drains and gullies in the Pettah and
Fort with bare bodied help sweating it out in squalid kitchens.
Needless to say little or no attention paid to the quality and
hygienic standards of the food served.
The task before Dr Kariyawasam is indeed an unenviable one to
keep tabs on each and every one of these joints given the dearth
of staff not to mention the political clout wielded by some of
these hoteliers restraining him from action. But act he must if
the city of Colombo is not to be turned into centre that is
notorious for breeding diseases and epidemics. Particularly at
this juncture when Sri Lanka and the city capital will be the
focus of world attention in the aftermath of the three decades
of war and the heavy influx of tourist and investors set to
descend on our shores.
In this regard the decision to test levels of food handling
and food preparation as well as the workers’ medical condition
together with the requirement that all hotel employees undergo
laboratory tests is a move in the right direction. The move also
to lay down regulations with regard to lunch packets arriving in
the city from outside and to check all mobile food outlets will
no doubt help in the minimising of health risks to the public.
With the city of Colombo set to undergo a massive
transformation it is only but logical that not only the old
edifices are subject to change but also other aspects that has
given the city a negative image such as its notoriety as an
epidemic carrier through squalid food outlets to name only one
of the causes that today mar the city’s once beautiful
landscape. Hopefully the positive moves taken by the CMC medical
officer would lead to making Colombo a city free of health risks
by ensuring clean hygienic catering centres for the public.