ROUGH CUTS| Closing food stalls for unsanitary practices

WE HAVE this report on the order of the City Health Office (CHO) Sanitation Division to close several food stalls within the vicinity of the Southern Philippines Medical Center (SPMC) and along the Ecoland West Drive at Ecoland Subdivision near a well-known mall.

     The reason of the order is the failure of the food stalls to meet sanitation requirements especially in the food handling aspect.

     This was found out after a series of inspections conducted by the CHO through a team led by Sanitation Division head Robert Oconer.

     We wish to congratulate the CHO for launching the inspection. This is very important as a good number of people are patronizing the food stalls and eateries located in these areas. The stalls actually have captured customers. The ones at SPMC are being patronized by relatives who are watching their patients confined at Davao region’s largest government medical facility. Even nurses and other non-medical staff of SPMC are also taking their meals in these food service providers.

     On the other hand, the small eateries along Ecoland West Drive are catering to the employees of establishments inside the nearby mall and even those who are directly employed by the mall itself. Taxi and tricycle drivers are also eating their lunch and dinner in these food stalls.

   We agree with the recommendation of the CHO’s sanitation division head that these should be padlocked because the stalls operate way below the acceptable standard in food handling which the CHO inspectors attributed to their lack of access to running water. And we too, believe in what the team called the “irony of it all”. That is, that the SPMC food stalls are reportedly run by the cooperative of the hospital’s employees who are presumed to be completely knowledgeable of the health requirements in running food businesses.

     However, the CHO Sanitation Division chief somehow failed to see, or perhaps mention, the biggest irony of all. And this is on the fact that for years the food stalls are able to continuously operate in such condition under the very noses of the city’s health regulators.

     Firstly, we have every reason to assume that the eateries have business permits. We know that food service is a business. Whoever operates one without permit violates a very important city ordinance. And with the large number of food stalls sprouting in the two areas mentioned, it’s extremely unusual if their presence did not get noticed by concerned regulating agencies like the CHO, the City Engineer’s Office, and the City Environment and Natural Resources Office (CENRO). So, if the CHO people were real quick in their job, no such food stalls should have been allowed to be put up.

     Secondly, we believe that the eateries in both locations may not also have the necessary permits. We can safely gauge our assumption on the very reason given by the inspecting team in ordering the closure of the stores concerned.

     Look, if they do not have access to running water it is probably because the local water utility has refused to install them water connections. The stall owners perhaps were unable to present their necessary permit requirements such as building and business permits.

     Yes, closing down the food stalls at SPMC and Ecoland West Drive is a harsh option, since that will mean depriving several families of their source of income. Still, the law is the law. But how should this dictum be applied if the reason of the failure of the food stalls to comply with the required standard is partly caused by the ineptitude of government regulators themselves?

     Of course we know that the lapses emanating from both the regulating bodies and the owners or operators of the food stalls and eateries may not yet be that deeply rooted. There might still be ways to correct it.

     Hence, we believe that the opportunity for addressing this problem of violating food service standard has come out in the surface with the result of the CHO inspection. The CHO people therefore, will now have to look deeply into the circumstances that lead to the stalls’ failure to comply. At the same time they have to craft measures to help correct it without permanently depriving the owners of their livelihood.

   Again closure is a harsh measure. But if there is no other way other than adopting such option the city government must exercise the required political will to do it. Any concession could be interpreted by the stall owners as weakness that they may again exploit.

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Posted in Opinion