Hearing a mother who lost her 16-year-old child after the child consumed popular Lebanese dish Shawarma, the Kerala High Court has ordered for Food Safety and Standard Authority of India’s (FSSAI) ‘Shawarma Guidelines’ to be necessarily incorporated into the statutory licenses of all the eateries. It said that it would continue to keep the writ petition alive for some more time “to make sure that another mother will not have to approach this Court in the same manner as the petitioner is being constrained to.”
The Court said that alongwith the said guidelines, FSSAI’s ‘order of ban’ dated January 12, 2022 should also be incorporated so that the eateries cannot henceforth take the stand that they were not aware of both.
The Court took note of the Food Safety Commissioner’s submission that in the case of ‘Shawarma’, one “major cause of accident was that it was being consumed by customers much after the time frame it was safe for consumption”.
It held in this regard that in this scenario “necessary instructions shall also be given to all the eateries to exhibit the date and time of the preparation of the food article on its packaging,” for all across-the-counter and takeaway parcels.
It further directed that necessary steps should be taken to create awareness amongst consumers as to strict adherence to these timelines for safe consumption of a food article. This was to be overseen by the Food Safety Commissioner and authorities under her on a regular basis, it held.
The matter was being heard by a bench of Justice Devan Ramachandran.
Facts of the case
The brief facts of the case are that the petitioner, mother of a 16-year-old child lost her child after the child consumed shawarma from an eatery.
The mother alleged inter alia that the food manufacturer in question was operating without licence, there were no inspections conducted on them, for at least two years by the competent Authorities under the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI).
Hence, the aggrieved mother approached the Kerala High Court seeking appropriate directions to the relevant authorities as well as compensation under constitutional tort principles.
She further sought interim directions to the Food Safety Commissioner, the Assistant Commissioner of Food Safety, and the Food Safety Officer, to submit a report on the measures taken for implementation of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and Regulation 2011, in the interest of justice.
FSSAI Commissioner’s submissions
While clarifying at the outset that she had joined the post only in the last two weeks, the Commissioner who was present in person (through the online mode) pursuant to the Court’s directions, informed the bench that ‘Shawarma Guidelines’ were issued by the Department on September 25, 2022.
She added that an ‘Order of Ban’ had also been issued and enforcement drives and inspections were being conducted on a regular basis, in which several eateries were issued notices.
She further said that orders relating to labelling of parcels, requiring the eateries to mention the specific date and time of manufacture; had also been issued after the case, and consumer awareness campaigns would be undertaken.
She pointed out that in the present case, not only the daughter of the petitioner, but various other students were also infected, and details about the same would be filed on affidavit.
The Court noted that despite an order of the FSSAI disallowing the use of raw eggs in the production and storage of mayonnaise on January 12, 2023 there had been an incident of death by suspected consumption of ‘Shawarma’ in the recent past as well.
Welcoming the FSSAI’s steps, the bench cautioned that “the battle is far from being won, because, unless the eateries and consumers are made aware of the pitfalls of consuming ‘Shawarma’, except in the manner as governed by the applicable Regulations, Rules and Circulars, such accidents may continue to happen, as we have seen in the recent past.”
Inter alia it ordered the respondents to file a counter affidavit within 3 weeks, wherein details relating to the steps taken along with all orders, Guidelines and other relevant and germane documents must be listed.
The Court also directed for details of violations by any eatery or manufacturer to be listed in due course.
Coming back to the case at hand it said that the details of the prosecution and steps taken against the eatery in question shall also be made available, either along with the affidavit as ordered in direction to allow the Court to decide if the actions taken are in proper perspective.
It then listed the matter for further hearing on December 5.