Restaurants and health inspectors

Consumart-pix-CopyA PUBLIC health inspector also known as an environmental health officer is someone who examines restaurants and ensures they maintain food safety standards set by the regulatory authority.

Restaurants and other food establishments, by whatever name called, should be routinely inspected to prevent an outbreak of food borne diseases. This responsibility is domiciled in the State ministries of health and local councils.
A critical check in most of the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) will reveal that this very important function is not being rigorously carried out. Many food establishments are not monitored.

The recent sealing up of the popular confectionary outfit, Chocolate Royale, by NAFDAC officials in Lagos, is bound to suggest something symptomatic of the goings-on in the industry.

Although the confectionary store has been re-opened after laboratory tests, the food outlet was sealed following a tip-off on an allegation of illegal importation, storage and use of expired ingredient and food products for preparation of confectionaries.

The Agency claimed that an avalanche of complaints necessitated its action. Expired products, according to the claim, were evacuated from the premises for laboratory tests. NAFDAC, curiously, did not get back to the public with the result of the laboratory analysis of the product it seized. This cannot be said to be helpful to both the public and the food outlet itself. It is only fair that NAFDAC makes a public statement about its findings so that its action does no harm to the earned reputation of the confectionary in terms of confidence and trust.
It is just as well that the food outlet issued press statements reassuring its customers and reiterating its commitment to maintaining the highest food and safety standards.

Indeed, it was the Lagos State Ministry of Health mandated by law that ought to have stepped in with its environment health inspectors to carry out a comprehensive audit of all the facilities of the organization to ensure that high food safety standards were maintained.S

With increasing consumption of foods prepared outside our homes, there is a demand for sustained vigilance by all regulators to promote food safety in restaurants and cafeterias.

Inspection of food outlets all across the country should be carried out regularly within specified periods. Inspections should be done without prior notice or warning to restaurant owners.

The public should be availed numbers where they can report complaints and insiders such as employees can blow the whistle on erring food establishments to the health authorities.

The state ministries of health should have information on their websites outlining the laws regulating health and food safety and where these laws are outdated or deficient, they should liaise with the State House of Assembly to review them, modify them where necessary or enact new ones to meet with the realities of modern society.

Food establishments should be classified accordingly— full service restaurants, fast food restaurants, outdoor eateries, that is, bukkas, snack bars, pepper soup joints, suya stands, food trucks, roadside cafes e.t.c.

Identification numbers should be issued to them according to the category into which they fall and rated on the hygiene standards.

During inspections, officials will be expected to show their identification on arrival and be polite and courteous while the visit lasts.

They are also expected to give the business owners a feedback on the visit, pointing out problems and infractions they may have observed in the course of the inspection.

They can take photographs and samples of suspect food; they can talk to the staff about the quality control system. It will not be out of place to request for relevant documentation, food safety management systems and staff sickness records. All the details of the inspection will then be gathered and stored electronically.

Inspectors will be expected to check and ensure that
• Food is stored properly at adequate temperatures and conditions at all times
• Food is obtained from known sources and no spoilage is observed.
• Clean food preparation surfaces are maintained
• Food equipment and utensils are sanitized.
• Water used is obtained from a clean source
• Correct cooking temperature are maintained
• Personnel maintain good hand washing and hygiene practices
• Toilet and hand washing facilities are adequate and clean, with constant running water
• Fumigation of the premises is regular and promptly carried out.
• Absence of cockroaches, rodents and other undesirable pests
• Employee safety equipment is available as well as a first aid kit
• Exclusion of staff if they are found to be suffering from infectious diseases.
Health inspectors need to be trained to update their knowledge on new development in health and safety. They should also be expected to acquire and develop a fair understanding of legal and technical matters.
Where inspectors observe minor infractions they can advise on how best to rectify them, while in severe cases recommend prosecution. Where the prosecution is successful, the court may decide to impose fines, prohibit the owner from running a food business and depending on the degree of culpability, hand out imprisonment for serious offenders. In extreme cases such as vey dirty premises or serious pest infestation the establishment will be shut down.

In an environment like ours it will be advisable for the health inspectors to be accompanied by law enforcement agents for safety in the course of their statutory duties.

Tips on how to negotiate

In a culture like ours where bargaining is a given, some of us think that negotiation is a special preserve for experienced professional. In reality even the shyest amongst us can take advantage of a few simple tips to get the best bargain out of any deal. Here are a few tips.

• Research: As the saying goes knowledge is power, it is important to plan properly, gather all the data you need on the subject. A quick search on Google can reveal all you need to on most subjects.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that negotiation is always a give and take process. It is important to always have a fallback position or a plan B; understand that compromise is not defeat. Negotiate by keeping an open mind; listen to the other person and take into consideration his own position. Don’t let your ego get in the way

• Be prepared: Rehearse your points, and marshal your argument, clear in your mind on how you want to come across whilst you make your case. Like a lawyer in court be assertive without sounding pushy.

• Don’t lose you cool: keep it simple and stay calm. Be focused; do not get into an argument with the other party. Listen without prejudice to the other party’s point of view; you have to look at the situation with a broad perspective. It’s not just about getting 100 per cent of what you want but about taking into consideration the other party. It should be a win-win.

• Listen more and speak less: Just because a price tag displays a certain amount does not mean it is final. Strike up a conversation with a sales person and lead with a compliment. Let the sales person do more of the talking. Listen for cues in areas where you can engage him and gather information, which might be useful in making a counter offer.

• Don’t be intimidated: You can’t win if you don’t try; do not feel intimidated by the surroundings or the slickness of the sale person. Make an offer you feel comfortable with. The worst that can happen is the person declines your offer. Turn on the charm as the Biblical saying goes. A soft answer can break bones.

• Don’t show desperation: Be calm and collected. Keep your emotions in check; you might be jumping up and down inside but maintain a poker face. Do not let the other party see you really want something.

• Find flaws: Show the sales person reasons why you deserve a discount. If there is a flaw in the product, point it out to the sales person, no matter how small.

• Compare and contrast: Research the cost of the product, from other retailers. Inform the sales person of the quotes of their competitors; ask if they can match the quoted price or go lower,

• Be willing to walk away: – The most important key in any bargaining process is your willingness to walk away. It changes how you approach the situation, more often than not in Nigeria. The sales person will call you back and your offer accepted in most parts of the market.

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