Of food scandals, inspection and legitimacy
I gladly missed the epilogue of “scandals” that MP Faour launched against the F&B industry in the Lebanon the past 10 days through every media channel with a pixel to spare (and there are plenty)
When I was back in town, and out with some friends bringing up options for dinner turned into a “was this on the black-list game” … which made me stop and review the evidence. Here’s my list of why I will take all the “savior” MPs words and actions with a sea of a salt!
1. Licensing: Almost two years ago a scandal erupted about how more than “705” of restaurants / F&Bs in Lebanon are not licensed. ofcourse the eventually faded in the Media (who wants to go against the corrupt lords).
So if we play down the numbers a little and say 50% of restaurants were not registered, it means they were not being monitored, nor are they aware of any safety guidelines / laws/ etc (given that these laws and guidelines exist). Yet they operate in broad daylight… tax-free?
A little story on that note. An extended family member runs a chicken shop in Saida, when he went to register the shop the employee at the ministry told him “We are not doing much surveillance these days, just open up and you can fix your papers when we officially start following up on licensing” (… no joke), they gave him a few pamphlets on some hygiene guidelines (basic knowledge, with no penalty guidelines) and he left. The guy decided to stick to all guidelines, such as packaging all food in transparent plastic bags since theses are least toxic, while alot of his competitors will serve you in black bags which stink of low quality recycling (and are also not hygienic)
Does the government care about licensing? Let’s toss a coin.
2. Ministries: I fail to understand the distribution of responsibilities and laws to ministries: It still baffles me why the #nosmoking174 law is implemented by the Ministry of Tourism? Isn’t that a health issue?
Why do you need to be licensed by the Ministry of tourism for an F&B institute, isn’t that a regular establishment and should be between ministry of health, economy, or something?
It always feels like there is no real reasoning or logic behind the way the government roles and responsibilities are distributed and when accountability becomes vague.. it disappears. Who is accountable for the F&B industry? slaughter houses? Imports / Exports of food products? Taxation of food and things that rot at the port because of un-bribed commissioners? Transportation of food vehicles and their regulations? (a personal rant, food rotting in your house due to lack of electricity!)
3. Guidelines: I spent a few hours on the ministry of health website trying to find guidelines and fines for restaurants / F&B institutes, no avail. anyone has a link? PDF? Audio file? book?
What are the requirements, guidelines, safety procedures and precautions, etc, that institutions need to abide by, and what are the attached penalties…. this needs to be public and basic knowledge. For the Minister to go on TV so blatantly and confidently bashing people left and right based on nothing… is a pure reflection of this moronic government that declares itself God, no questions asked, just selective penalties on the average citizen that doesn’t swing to a war-lords mercy.
Something like this would help: “All kitchen staff should wear gloves made of approved, non-toxic, material while handling food and surfaces (detailed list of approved materials) – no complying equals fine of $5,000”
There should be at least 500 pages of these, detailed for these “campaigns” to have an legitimacy!
4. Inspections: … ah the beautiful pile of dung that protects us: Health and Safety inspectors. A minority of which depend on their salaries, and a majority of which own castles and Ferraris (and not from bonuses for their hard work). No need for further elaboration.
Inspectors, there has been complaints about the way food was removed from restaurants / institutions for inspection and the criteria used.
5. Media: So Faour the savior is trying to convince us that he is looking after our safety and best interest. Let’s start with the basics: quit the crap.
The F&B industry is one of the most lively segments of the Lebanese economy, it employees alot of students, and affects all sectors (agriculture, transportation, machinery (fridges, stoves, etc), dairy, marketing, and much more). Putting the reputation of a whole segment on the line without much thought is irresponsible. To all of our knowledge none of these institutes have received any warnings prior to exposing them on international TV, radio, print and media! International!
Look, no one likes to be put of business. If inspectors came in and fined / warned institutions without being bribed, restaurants and other institutes would have (if needed) got their act together. Unless Faour was trying to threaten the inspectors that he is over-riding them? … there’s a Lebanese saying “عم إحكيكي يا جارة لتسمعي يا كنة” (Translation: “I sharing with my neighbor so my daughter-in-law can listen” – it’s something used when the Mother-in-law (or anyone) wants to get the message across to their daughter-in-law in-directly). In the F&B industry, reputation is a killer, would you go to a place you’ve heard bad things about? Would you step into a shop you saw nasty pictures of on Twitter / Facebook?
On the other hand, some factories and institutions have been battling in court for a few years over unaccredited material that they use in their products, but somehow our media has not picked up on that… is it not the right of consumers to know that there are question markets about food brands they consume on daily basis?
6. Consumer Protection Authority? … uhm, hello? *echo*
7. The Slaughterhouse (maslakh) has been a political battleground for the past decade. It is no secret that the neighboring residents do not want the Beirut slaughterhouse to stay in their surroundings, while those responsible for it, are refusing to move. As the alliances clash (Slaughterhouse vs. Mayor (elected by people in area)) the slaughterhouse has been rejected the budget for renovation for the past years.Workers are aware of the problem, they want to fix it, but conflicting alliances are key to making the slaughter house bad beyond recognition and salvation to have a good excuse to close it down. the kinda sick world we live in.
…. this could go on for alot.
I want to clarify a few things. I personally believe that Lebanon’s fines are among the cheapest you can find, which is kind of dumb, fining those that break the law should be a major source of income for all governments. But for you to be able to fine people, they have to be well-informed of their liabilities and penalties.
There are supermarkets that have been under the spotlight for bad hygiene and storage for more than 5-6 years now with very little interference from the ministry. If you have every lived abroad, (or been to supermarkets that run on their international standards) you will notice that many of the other supermarkets are too warm (even for dry foods), humid, and the fridges sections are as cold as they should be, the meats and cheese section usually have a light smell, which they shouldn’t. It’s not the most inviting experience.
If this “campaign” (and minister) are legitimate about their concerns; the following steps should be at least the below and preferably more:
1. Very clear and ridiculously detailed guidelines for every thing F&B related (from purchase origin, shipping, import, taxation, handling, transportation, storage and cooking, etc) need to be developed. And need to be disseminated to all F&B stakeholders.
2. Unlicensed restaurants and F&B institutions need to be shutdown, or given a grace period to obtain licenses before penalties are enforced.
3. Times have changed, alot of guidelines need updating. Maybe restauranteurs need a fresh whim of education, a series of workshops, running year-long by the syndicates to inform owners, workers, chefs, etc on the latest laws and procedures, safety and hygiene?
4. Customer awareness; Inspectors can’t be the only ones monitoring the health of citizens, customers should be aware of what could harm them. There are at least a few dozen red-flags that citizens can look out for while buying food or eating out that could help keep us all safe.
5. Collaborating with the health-care providers and hospitals to provide ongoing reports on diseases and illness reported by patients after eating from/at places. There will be alot of nuances for sure, but if the occurrences are frequent enough… that’s a definite red flag (and wax)!