Sunday, November 23, 2008

Certified Samosas

I was shocked to see Lokesh wolfing down samosas and patties catered by the Indian Railways. His gastronomic preferences were well known - hygienic and vegetarian. He skipped food when he felt the quality was not upto the mark.He was known to consume soft drinks straight from the bottle since he was suspicious of the cleanliness of the straw. He washed the surface of soft drink cans before opening them. He would quote from exclusives/ratcans.html that these cans were stored unhygienically and could lead to contracting to the deadly hanta virus transmitted by rat urine.

HACCP certified food being served on the Shatabdi Express

At home, all fruits and vegetables went through a Potassium Permanganate wash prior to use. He said that Cauliflower was often infected with tissue invading larval forms of the pork tapeworm "Taenia Solium". Cauliflower, therefore was taboo. I have even caught him washing bananas and oranges which are packaged by nature.He was upset with the order of the Railway Ministry to move from Styrofoam cups to earthenware cups.On railway journeys, which were frequent, Lokesh would eschew all food except the tetra packed juice and eclairs. When in doubt, he said, eat the humble banana - after washing.

On market visits, he insisted on eating only at McDonald's, though he hated burgers. He said that this was the only place where you got micro-biologically tested food. According to him, toilet water specification at MacDonald's are better that the Government specification for drinking water. He always said hygiene was important, taste and choice were not.

It, therefore, took me by surprise when I saw him gobbling down the stuff served on the train.When I questioned him about this, in-between samosa bites, he just pointed out to the words HACCP printed on the samosa wrapper.I just didn't get it. It only looked suspiciously similar to CCCP (the old Union of Soviet Socialist Republics).

As Lokesh gobbled and the train wobbled at high speeds, he explained. "HACCP - you pronounce it as "hasup" - is for Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points. HACCP certification ensures that the vendor has identified Critical Control Points where hazards might occur. It ensures that monitoring procedures are instituted to ensure that safety lapses do not occur, and if they do they do not go uncorrected.So, from the time flour is received to the time finished samosas are delivered on the train, steps to check quality and prevent contamination are in place."

He continued with great enthusiasm. "This even includes ensuring that those who cook and serve wash their hands. Human hands - so important in many stages of food processing - are fertile breeding ground for bacteria, viruses and a host of other organisms, making them a prominent, yet often neglected, critical control point. A careless swipe across the face, an incautious trip to the restroom and billions of contaminants could be released into the processing system." The zest with which he went gaga over the Indian Railways HACCP certification got me wondering. Whenever his family went out for a meal he would now perhaps recommend they dine at the Railway Food Plaza on platform 4, with sterilized Styrofoam cups carried from home!

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