RAWALPINDI – Several citizens and children (infants) in Rawalpindi district risk food poisoning and other health hazards mainly because of eating expired food items being sold openly in the local markets and bazaars.

The expired food items, sale of which is on the rise in every nook and corner of the division without any monitoring by the relevant authorities, included jam and jellies, dry milk, cereals, cerelac, nimkos, instant soft drinks, canned food, squashes, glucose, sandwiches, bread, packed milk, donuts and many more.

In many local hotels, the owners also serve rotten food to consumers putting their health at risk but authorities concerned taking no action against the hotel owners.

The District Health Department (DHD) and its brigade of Food Inspectors, whom prime responsibility is nothing than to protect the precious human lives by keep a vigil on such elements involved in selling expired food items, have closed their eyes, something seeking strong attention of Punjab Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The residents of Rawalpindi Division agitated against high-ups of City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) and DHD for keeping a mum over the matter of great concern and not conducting raids on the markets and bazaars to frisk the shops where the sale of expired food items is on.

Well-placed sources in the DHD revealed that suppliers and traders were supplying food products bearing altered production dates whereas shopkeepers were selling them to the people having no knowledge that it was a poison.

Stopping the sale of expired food items in the division is impossible or not, the sources in DHD said, as the Food Inspectors avoid conducting surprise raids in the markets and shops locating in far flung areas or some times receive bribe from the shopkeepers to keep mum over this state of affairs. Only a stern action on the part of Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP) or CM Punjab could discourage the sale of expired food items in the markets, the sources added.

Speaking to TheNation on Thursday, Imran Ali, a resident of Dhamial, said that he bought 6 sashes of Cerelac for his 9-month-old son Muhammad Saim Ali from a market located at Madni Chowk.

“When I torn a sashay to mix it up in the water to provide my son, I saw the manufacturing date on back side of the packet was expired,” he said adding that he returned it to the shopkeeper immediately.

Imran demanded of DHD officials to pay surprise visits to the markets to stop the sale of expired food items.

Similarly, Shazia Batool, a housewife in Jhanda Cheechi, informed that her husband had brought a bottle of apple jam for his family, however, it was found expired. “My son started vomiting after having breakfast one day. I took him to a local hospital where doctors diagnosed food poisoning,” she said adding that she rushed back to home and checked all the food items he used in preparing food for her family.

“It was the apple jam expiry date of which was June 2010 and led to food poising,” she added. The government should bring the suppliers and sellers of expired food items to book, she demanded.

A group of labourers, who resided in an under-construction building at Gulzar-e-Quaid and used to eat food on nearby cheap hotels, when interviewed, said, “Eating substandard and unhygienic food is risky but we have no choice.”

“I earn hardly Rs 6000 in a month, nearly Rs 3500 are used for food from these hotels,” one of these workers said.

“We can save some money by eating substandard food,” said another labourer Abrar.

The citizens appealed to CM Punjab Shahbaz Sharif to direct DHD officials to handle all the suppliers and sellers of expired food items with an iron hand.

District Officer (Health) Urban Dr Ansar, when contacted, said that food inspectors conduct raids regularly and punish those shopkeepers who were involved in such illegal exercise. “A total of four food inspectors are working in the field who daily visit markets to control these mafia”.

When asked about preparation of substandard food on hotels, Ansar replied that DHD collected samples from the hotels and sent them for laboratory examination.

 “If some one is found guilty, what DHD would do is to forward the report to the court of a magistrate. Now it’s the duty of the magistrate how he deals with the accused.”

Dr Khalid Randhawa, DO Health Rural, was not available for his comments on the issue.