Food Safety Officers should restrain from taking Media Along

The Madras High Court on Friday, 30th September 2022 directed Food Safety Officials not to take the television crew along with them when they inspect the kitchens of restaurants and hotels and take samples to test the quality of food served there.  [Chennai Hotels Association v. State of Tamil Nadu]

Instead, the court said, the officers could seek the assistance of private camera persons and use such footage only for the purpose of prosecution. 

Justice R Suresh Kumar, in an interim order, directed that the officers must only take along private cameras for such inspections and the footage recorded must be used solely for prosecution purposes and not publicity.

The Court ordered that the officials should not give interviews to the media, without the leave of the court, damaging the reputation of the restaurateurs even before it could be proved that there was any wrongdoing.

The Court was hearing a petition filed by the Chennai Hotels Association claiming that the designated officer for Chennai under the Food Safety and Standards Act, was a “publicity freak,” determined to “tarnish” the reputation of most food joints in the city.

The association submitted instances where the officer had commented about the quality of food and had given reports/orders/interviews without even sending the sample for food analysis. Thus, he was conducting inspections, not in accordance with the law.

It was further submitted that Section 42 of the Act clearly specified the manner in which prosecution was to be initiated.

Making it clear that the association members had no objection to any inspection carried out as per the provisions of the FSSA, the Senior Counsel said, the officers could not barge into the kitchens of various restaurants and hotels along with television cameras and start giving interviews right over there declaring the food items to be unhygienic and stale.

Justice Suresh Kumar said the petitioners’ request seemed “reasonable.”

The judge agreed with the submission of the petitioner that the Officer could engage a private cameraman instead. The court also orally observed that even though many inspections were carried out, only a few were prosecuted. This would show that the success rates in these cases were very poor, it added.

After ordering notices to the designated officer as well as the State government to respond to the writ petition, the judge directed the Registry to list it again for hearing on October 17.

Source: Bar & Bench, Live Law, The Hindu.

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