The consumer watchdog has revealed poor hygiene standards and food safety practices in more than 100 establishments in Fiji. Picture:iStock
By NIKHIL KUMAR
A substantial number of restaurants are failing to meet basic hygiene and food safety standards, according to the Consumer Council of Fiji’s recent market survey.
The council’s chief executive officer, Seema Shandil, said an extensive monitoring operation on the hygiene and food safety standards in restaurants was carried out in June this year and covered 111 restaurants across Suva, Lautoka and Labasa.
She said the findings revealed a need for urgent action to ensure the safety and well-being of consumers.
“The survey’s results are deeply concerning with more than 50 per cent (55 out of 111) of the businesses either operating without a valid health license or displaying one that had expired,” she said in a statement.
“These findings are truly staggering, and they highlight a significant non-compliance issue within the industry.
“The Consumer Council of Fiji is only an advocacy body, and it is up to the relevant enforcement bodies — municipal councils and the Ministry of Health Food Unit — to ensure that these restaurants comply.”
The inspections also revealed a concerning disregard for food grading standards.
The council said an alarming 81 per cent of the surveyed restaurants (90 out of 111) failed to display a valid Food Grading Certificate.
Upon further enquiry, the council said those traders claimed that their establishments had not been inspected by authorities in order to ascertain a food grading.
The Food Grading system allows restaurants to be awarded either ‘A’ grade (90%+ compliance to Food Safety requirements), ‘B’ grade (80-89% compliance), C grade (70-79% compliance) or D grade (Less than 70% compliance).
Notably, Ms Shandil said authorised officers had the power to order the closure of establishments that received a C grade or lower, depending on the nature of non-compliance.
Ms Shandil also highlighted critical areas where restaurants fell short.
“Sixty-nine per cent (77 out of 111) of the surveyed restaurants were found to be neglecting the use of functioning food warmers for their cooked food.
“An even higher percentage of establishments, 80 per cent (89 out of 111), lacked any form of insect control measures, leading to increased risks of contamination from flies and cockroaches.”
She said 91 restaurants were seen with the presence of flies and cockroaches, posing serious health hazards to patrons.
Equally alarming, she said, was the finding that a significant portion, 64 per cent (71 out of 111) of the establishments were in need of a thorough cleaning.
“Numerous restaurants were found to have staff members not wearing the correct Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, hairnets and closed shoes, which further jeopardised safety,” she said.
“Inadequate ventilation was also a widespread issue among the surveyed establishment.”
The Food Safety Act 2003 mandates that each food establishment should be inspected at least once a year and assessed against a comprehensive list of requirements as set out in the Act.
The Ministry of Health Food Unit is authorised to cancel or revoke the Health License based on their findings or recommendations provided by the municipal councils regarding the non-compliance issues found with establishments.
The council has called on these bodies to work collaboratively with restaurant owners and managers to address the identified concerns and ensure strict compliance with the law.
The Consumer Council of Fiji also recommended a strengthened regime of inspections and enforcement.
“Health authorities must conduct regular and rigorous inspections of all restaurants to ensure compliance and identify any violations.
“The results from these inspections, violations, and penalties should be disclosed to the public, thus empowering consumers to make informed choices,” said Ms Shandil.
In relation to restaurants that are not complying, the council is looking into implementing swift and effective enforcement of measures to hold non-compliant establishments accountable and impose the penalties prescribed by the Food Safety Act.
The council has also called for restaurant owners and staff to focus more on proper food handling, sanitation practices, and maintain good customer service.
Nikhil Kumar is a final-year journalism student at USP’s Laucala Campus, Suva. He is also co-editor of Wansolwara, USP Journalism’s student training newspaper and online publication.
Edited by Ivy Mallam, Wansolwara student online editor 2023.