INDIA – The government of India has shut down over 200 hotels and seized large quantities of stale meat and fish in a week-long operation across the north Kerala state, following the death of a 16-year-old girl after consuming stale shawarma.

“During the drive, over 500 kg stale meat and 6,000 kg fish laced with chemicals was seized in the state. The check drive will be intensified. Last week, the high court had registered a case suo moto and asked the government and food safety officials to conduct regular examinations instead of acting only after a tragedy,” said a food safety official.

Around 60 persons sought treatment at several hospitals after consuming the shawarma on April 30 from a cool bar in Cheruvathur in Kasaragod district. A Class 11 student, died on May 2 while undergoing treatment at the district hospital in Kanhangad.

Laboratory analyses revealed that the severe food poisoning was caused by bacterial infection. Kasaragod district medical officer Dr A V Ramdas said shigella bacteria triggered food poisoning in the district.

Shigellosis is an intestinal infection caused by the bacteria and is highly contagious. It can spread by consuming stale food, unclean water, unwashed fruits and vegetables and through close interaction with a shigella-infected person.

As many as 1,704 inspections were carried in a week and the government will seal all the loopholes in the food safety rules. Usually after raids, hotels pay up fines and re-open after a few days.

Veena George, the State health minister noted that food adulteration is a serious offence and as such the government will take strict action against offenders.

“We are also checking jaggery, milk, curry powder and cooking oil. Good food is the consumer’s right. Operation jaggery and operation malsya (fish) are in full swing. We have stepped up the vigil. We will shut unlicensed eating joints and ensure quality food in street eateries also,” he said.

The government was left red-faced after the food poisoning incident as many posts in the food safety department were lying vacant. It decided to appoint 41 food safety officers within a fortnight.

During the raid officials also recovered “tsunami meat” from some places. Tsunami meat is a local name for meat and chicken leftover, including cattle head, chicken intestine and feather parts, which are sometimes mixed with fresh meat. Many a times, meat of dead cattle and chicken is added to it.

Officials said while transporting cattle and chicken from neighboring states many die due to suffocation, heat and long journey and carcasses are added to the tsunami meat. They said once it is minced and added with the fresh batch it becomes difficult to differentiate.

A few days back, a hotel in Thiruvananthapuram district was closed down by food safety authorities after a family found that the food they bought from the hotel was wrapped in a paper containing parts of snake skin.

Liked this article? Subscribe to Food Safety Africa News, our regular email newsletters with the latest news insights from Africa and the World’s food safety, quality and compliance. SUBSCRIBE HERE