India launches food safety drive to tackle Delhi Belly

By James Lamont in New Delhi

Published: October 15 2008 03:00 | Last updated: October 15 2008 03:00


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Delhi Belly entered the vocabulary of international travel long ago. Visitors to India stave off the risk of an upset stomach by sticking to bottled water and rub their hands liberally with germ-killing gel.

But the Indian government is hoping to spruce up the country's gastronomic image by launching measures to promote safe eating in the country's capital.

Ahead of the Commonwealth Games in two years' time, the Indian Food Safety and Standards Agency will publish a Directory of Safe Eating Establishments to help visitors enjoy the highlights of India's cuisine.

Athletes and sports fans will receive a booklet advising them of the best, and safest, places to find samosa, chicken tandoori and aloo chat.

The agency will vet 1,000 small to medium-sized restaurants across the city and offer assistance to bring their levels of hygiene up to scratch, according to the Health Ministry. The restaurants that meet standards of food safety will be allowed to display a logo advertising their clean kitchens to would-be clientele.

"Training and capacity building would be undertaken by a panel of auditors and experts. Food samples would be tested periodically and a simplified standard will be developed against which performance will be evaluated," the Health Ministry said.

The government has plans to extend the scheme to other popular tourist destinations across India.

Mohini Bazaz, editor of the Delhi Diary, a guide to the city, said: "It's quite safe [to eat] in the big restaurants. Just as long as you don't eat in the smaller places, there's no problem."

The campaign is reminiscent of efforts by China to remove dog meat from menus during the August Olympic Games.

The move was part of a drive by Beijing to present its best possible face and avoid offending visitors.

Likewise, South Korea banned consumption of dog meat during the 1988 Seoul Olympics following fierce criticism from western animal rights groups.

Indians prefer more vegetarian fare and Delhi is famed for having delicious street food. But recent local studies have shown that the use of fatty acids and exposure to the elements render about 90 per cent of street food unsafe for human consumption. The railways, of which India has one of the biggest networks in the world, were found to be one of the worst offenders for flouting basic hygiene rules.



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