INDIA – India’s largest food delivery, dining and restaurant discovery service Zomato has decided to postpone its new food hygiene and safety policy to May 3 amid the restaurant industry’s concerns regarding its implementation.

The new ‘Severe Food Quality’ rules which were to initially take effect from April 18, could “temporarily disable” online orders if a complaint was found against a restaurant’s food quality.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has supported the proposed move by Zomato.

“This shows the importance of screening, approvals and processes undertaken by the FSSAI, and the faith the industry places in our audits and inspections,” said Arun Singhal, Chief Executive, FSSAI.

The move even found backing from a government official who told Economic Times that it would help to ensure better food quality and hygiene.

The restaurant aggregator also took the initiative to seek feedback from other restaurants through an email.

“We seek feedback from all our restaurant partners and would like to understand from you how this framework can be strengthened so it can be in the best interest of all stakeholders involved,” read the email.

Zomato added that they will work closely with all their restaurant partners to establish the authenticity of any such complaint received.

The incapacitation will be in consultation with the restaurant management and will only be applicable till necessary remedial actions are undertaken and verified through an FSSAI-approved hygiene and safety auditor.

Meanwhile, the National Restaurants’ Association of India (NRAI) is meanwhile expected to hold talks with the food delivery app next week to push for amendments to the newly introduced policy.

Overstepping its mandate

NRAI president Kabir Suri discussed the association’s concerns with Zomato cofounder Mohit Gupta on Friday. The association, which represents over 500,000 restaurants across the country, is seeking to avoid unfair implementation of the policy during its meeting next week.

“While the intent of the policy is understandable, the implementation leaves a lot of grey areas and scope for misuse.

Further, the action of delisting is draconian. We have initiated a dialogue with the Zomato team and conveyed our views. They will be meeting with us next week to resolve this in a better, more inclusive way, keeping all stakeholders in mind,” Suri said in a statement.

However, restaurants are of the view that Zomato is overstepping its role as a food aggregator to check restaurants’ food hygiene, when FSSAI as a statutory body is already overseeing food safety and regulation across eateries.

“This is outside the jurisdiction of Zomato. They are an aggregator. Any issues that consumers may have about the quality of food has to be between the consumer and FSSAI. We, at the restaurant level, are equipped to resolve all consumer complaints,” said Anjan Chatterjee, Chairman of Speciality Restaurants, a listed entity that operates Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta.

The list of actionable complaints ranges from serving pre-packaged food items that have gone past their expiry dates to serving the wrong type of meat, presence of hazardous foreign objects in food like animal/animal parts or sharp and inedible objects.

It also includes serving non-vegetarian food instead of vegetarian and other health hazards like fungus or rotten food.

NRAI said that the policy, a first-of-its-kind, was being introduced without consulting restaurants and allowed Zomato to exert an undue influence on eateries listed on its app.

Singhal of FSSAI said that the regulator’s existing ‘hygiene rating scheme’ for hotels, restaurants and bakeries was voluntary.

Under the system, FSSAI has created a checklist that restaurants and hotels need to meet based on hygiene and sanitation standards in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.

In 2017, Zomato had rolled out Food Hygiene Ratings where it sent “accredited third-party auditors” to conduct surprise physical food hygiene audits at restaurants listed on the app.

As of 2019, 10,000 restaurants took part in this voluntary programme which is however no longer active.

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