On 22 February 2019 five children died of food poisoning in Karachi. The family of 8 was traveling from Baluchistan to Karachi, and during their travel, they ate food at two restaurants along the way. According to the initial investigation, it is unclear which restaurant is responsible for the incident. Agha Khan Hospital confirms after the postmortem that the kids died of food poisoning and Pakistani food authorities are taking samples from the restaurants.
There was a similar case on 11 November 2018, when two children died of food poisoning. Sindh food authority sealed the restaurant responsible for the death of these children.
There were numerous cases of food not being up to normal standards in 2018, and authorities have yet to make strict policies against such acts. Every year dozens of people die or suffer after eating food from restaurants, shops, and stalls in Pakistan. In developed countries, governments don’t even allow selling food on the streets if they are not up to normal standards, but in Pakistan, Food authorities don’t seem to be interested in the idea of quality.
Pakistan is fighting with terrorism, poverty, water crisis, and many other social and economic challenges, not having food standards is adding to the list of problems. In Pakistan, except for big restaurant names, not much attention is paid towards small food shops and local restaurants. Anyone in Pakistan can start a food business in any location without permission from authorities, which means there is no quality check and set standards.
We haven’t seen Food authorities making efforts to inform local shops, restaurants, and food stalls about the importance of food quality. The little efforts that Food authorities do are in big cities like Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Every district has a food department, but there is little to no effort made to check the quality of street food stalls, local restaurants, and food shops. There is little to no awareness about how to report stalls or restaurants selling low-quality products in cities other than Lahore, Karachi, and Islamabad, and even if people complain about low quality food to district authorities, they don’t take it seriously unless there is a death.
On 20 February, Prime minister of Pakistan Imran Khan, while attending a meeting said that in his eyes VIPs are those who pay taxes. People of Pakistan are already paying a great amount of tax on every other food item, but there is no VIP treatment, not even a basic one.
People, when it comes to the quality of Food, are on their own. There is the law of the jungle, whoever can, wherever can start a food business, and serve it in whatever quality they want. The responsibility of people is to reject and report bad quality food, but the main responsibility lies on the government to not allow these businesses to run in the first place.
In November 2018, the government destroyed more than 1000 shops in Saddar and various parts of Karachi, which includes food stalls and local food shops. The reason was they were illegal and not serving the country; they must go through a proper channel. It looks like the government will take action, on its own, only when there is profit in return, or it will wait until there is an incident.
In response to the recent death of five children in Karachi, Sindh food authorities took action against some of the renowned restaurants in Hyderabad, but the real question is how many deaths will it take for Food authorities to take action before the incident, not after? We have seen vendors selling donkey meat in Lahore to Dog meat in Karachi. It is the responsibility of food departments to make regular visits to local restaurants and small vendors to ensure that they are selling quality food, but it looks like the government is interested in taking taxes from people, but they don’t think that quality food has any significance.