A series of deaths and hospitalization due to food poisoning in Kerala state affects public health and tourism.

January 8, 2023

By Shraddha Parakh

Recently in Kerala, many instances happened as a result of contaminated restaurant food. Within a week, two persons died in different parts of Kerala as a result of food poisoning. And this is not the first time previously, A 19-year-old girl died after consuming kuzhimanthi biriyani, and a 33-year-old woman died after consuming shavarma. In May 2022, one person died and 15 were hospitalized after eating stale shawarma. Last year, a 16-year-old girl died after eating shawarma. In 2012, a young student who had eaten shawarma died as a result of food poisoning. Every year, 1000 individuals are hospitalized in Kerala, a major tourist destination, as a result of food poisoning. Government officials lack a proper strategy for ensuring safe and suitable food for the public from food businesses. People in Kerala are concerned that eating out will expose them to bacteria. This comes following a rash of suspected food poisoning incidents in various parts of the state.

The health minister has no idea what food poisoning and food adulteration are. The unhygienic handling, inadequate cooking and storage, the lack of knowledge of safe food safety practices, and the lack of training in food safety practices are major issues in these cases of food poisoning in Kerala. Unfortunately, the health minister believes these deaths are the result of food adulteration. Both are different issues of food-related public health risks.

Unfortunately, the government has no strategy or policy planning to engage food businesses in preparing food for the public, no training infrastructure, no assessed staff competency, and even food safety officers are unsure of what they should advise for improving food safety for safe and appropriate food preparation for the public.

Food Poisoning

Food poisoning is caused by the intake of contaminated food. Contamination can occur when inadequately cooked food, particularly food of animal origin, is exposed to air. Apart from the presence of bacteria, viruses, or parasites, storing raw food with cooked food might lead to contamination. Contaminated water used to wash food or vegetables can potentially cause food contamination. Contamination of food by unhygienic preparation, improper cooking and handling of food also results in the food poisoning.

Salmonella is the most common bacterial cause of food illness, and in the majority of cases, officials have determined that the mayonnaise supplied with the shawarma is to blame. Many restaurants produce their own mayonnaise, which is an emulsion of raw eggs and oil that degrades quickly if left out of the refrigerator, particularly in hot weather. Meat, poultry, and eggs are key sources of salmonella bacteria, and if they are handled carelessly and in an unsanitary manner in the kitchen, cross-contamination from kitchen surfaces or blades can occur in other foods. The current hot and humid weather conditions in Kerala necessitate better and safer food handling and preservation, particularly for food of animal origin, in order to avoid food poisoning.

Clean, Separate, Cook, and Chill are four simple measures you can take at home to protect yourself and your loved ones from food poisoning.

  • Clean: Wash your hands and surfaces frequently.
  • Separate: Avoid cross contamination of food
  • Cook: Cook the food at right temperature and hot foods must stay hot and cold foods must stay cold
  • Chill: Refrigerate accordingly.

Impact of food poisoning on general public health:

While most people believe that food poisoning is only vomiting and diarrhea, this is not always the case. Food poisoning can cause dehydration and kidney failure. Vulnerable persons are more prone to become severely ill or die as a result of food poisoning. When vomiting occurs together with diarrhea in children, it becomes problematic because it is obvious that oral fluid ingestion is ineffective. If not recognized and treated, the condition can proceed to acidosis, and high potassium levels in the blood result in paralysis, cardiac problems, and even death.

The presence of the bacteria Shigella sonnei has now been discovered in stool samples obtained from children who were hospitalized due to food poisoning, according to the Health Department. Shigella infection can spread from person to person if an infected individual does not maintain proper hygiene or wash his hands after using the restroom. An infected person should not handle food at all since they can spread the infection to others.

Impact of food poisoning on the tourism sector:

The growing fear of food-borne illness on vacation harms the destination’s image and influences tourist travel decisions. Travelers may potentially suffer food poisoning if they come into contact with foreign microorganisms. Because their system is unfamiliar with the bacteria, it can cause issues even though it is not hazardous to the locals.  The tourism industry and accompanying revenue in Kerala are severely and negatively impacted by the ongoing food poisoning outbreaks and deaths, which are already broken down by the Covid outbreak.

Lack of practices resulted in food poisoning

  • Poor hygiene and sanitary practices and restaurants.
  • Restaurants (more than 1000) are operating even without a license
  • Stale and adulterated food is being sold
  • Lack of awareness about handling the food
  • Food safety officials are not adequately trained in terms of what to check, audit, and recommend to improve food safety.
  • Other state immigrants with less training in hospitality, culinary, and cooking expertise work in kitchens. They have little expertise in food safety, training, or hygiene, but hotel owners prefer to hire them for low rates.

How to prevent food poisoning in the food business.

  • Wash hands frequently.
  • Don’t work when ill.
  • Only used well-preserved and prepared food.
  • Maintain the adequate temperature of food
  • Avoid cross-contamination.
  • Defrost meat safely.
  • Thoroughly clean food preparation surfaces and utensils
  • Clean the Fridge Regularly to Reduce Foodborne Illness
  • Do a visual and smell check before you prepare and cook food
  • Keep raw and cooked food separate.

Precautionary measures need to be implemented.

Just Filing a complaint or halting food service at a few restaurants would not change anything. Why do food safety inspectors have to wait for the public to complain about conducting inspections at restaurants? Why is it not done on a regular basis? Restaurants were examined only when complaints are registered or if they heard of stale food being served or adulteration.

Educate and train food safety officials on the guidelines, suggestions, and requirements needed to open a restaurant and sell food to the general public. During the pre-license inspection, suppliers’ documents, infrastructure to keep food components, pest control, waste management, cleaning, the cooking process, storage facilities, fridges, freezers, and labeling should be verified. This is the most effective way to significantly reduce food safety risks while also making food businesses safer and more suitable for the public.

However, in Kerala, anyone can start cooking and selling food to the public without any infrastructure, trained employees, or culinary storage facilities, without having a valid license. Many other state workers come to Kerala for building and plywood manufacturing jobs, and some find work in hotels and restaurants with meals and on-site lodging. Before receiving a license from the local council, staff must have basic training in food safety practices and expertise. Some standards are jeopardized by bribery or political influence.

At least two well-trained food safety supervisors must be present in restaurants to oversee all food safety activities and to be held accountable for any unfavorable incidents. These supervisors are responsible for training other employees and dealing with client complaints. Food safety officials must conduct random inspections at least once a month; the same officer is not permitted to conduct random checks on the same food business.

When a person dies as a result of food poisoning, food safety inspectors conduct an inspection and close several hotels and restaurants for 10 days before reopening. Consumers showing poor responses, complaints, and reactions to unhygienic, unsafe restaurants are also serious problems. They never share their bitter experiences with others. Consumers have the right to expect that the goods they buy and eat are safe and of high quality. They have the right to express their views on the food control processes, standards, and activities that governments and businesses utilize to ensure that the food supply meets these criteria. The change in lifestyle and less cooking time at home due to fast life leads to more and more establishments of restaurants run by those who have no knowledge of food safety and training.

Food safety issues appear to have had a negative impact on the growth of the hotel business. For example, rising incidences of food poisoning and industrial degradation of the environment have sparked extraordinary outrage among tourists and hotel investors.

Another important training required for staff who do food delivery. Food businesses adopt tight seal marking to ensure no manipulation of food during delivery till it reaches customers.

Food hygiene authorities may investigate business premises to ensure compliance with legal standards. It may include collecting samples for scientific examination as well as examining records. Food safety officers must inspect infrastructure and processes, as well as employee competence and these records must be made public under the RTI Act.

Establish mobile squads that can perform unannounced hotel verification at any time without interfering with business. Never work for more than one squad in the same district for inspection. If any errors are discovered, these squads can take action against officers who suggested obtaining a license.

Risk will always exist in the food service industry; thus operators must determine preventive steps that may be implemented at each level on their premises to lower such risks to an acceptable level.

Things to check in food safety inspection

  • Authorized license to run the restaurant
  • Employees’ knowledge of the hazards and concepts of food safety
  • Hygiene and cleanliness
  • Separation between Raw and Cooked Ingredients
  • Ensures that food safety plans are properly implemented.
  • All foods are kept at proper temperatures
  • Food labeling is accurate and sufficient
  • Inspect and evaluate staff personal hygiene, food handling, and storage procedures, and waste disposal procedures.

Action Taken

Kerala’s health minister stated in response to food poisoning instances that the government took strict action against food adulteration. Following many reports of suspected food poisoning from various regions of the state, the Kerala Health minister declared that restaurants offering contaminated or stale food will lose their license. Food adulteration and providing stale food are both illegal. If a restaurant offers such food, the establishment’s license will be revoked.

The food safety commissioner of a region will guarantee that every establishment under it has the required license and registration, conduct routine checks, and take swift action against complaints.  If an establishment is discovered to be operating without a license or registration, severe penalties will be imposed.

If licensed establishments are discovered to be unsanitary or to be adulterating food, they will also face action.  A new grievance portal will be launched soon for the public to file complaints regarding unsanitary or stale food. She stated that they can upload images or videos to the platform.


The current situation highlights the need for implementing proper protocols to prevent food poisoning. Routine inspections are a must and if not followed will result in very serious issues and may cause the restaurant to be suspended with long-lasting damage.

This will have an impact on not only the food industry but also the tourism and health sector. As the confidence of people will go down day by day eating out, people would not like to visit places that will have an impact on their health. It’s important to take note of critical measures and implement them at every step for consumer safety.

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