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Going above and beyond for food safety

Going above and beyond for food safety
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Going Above And Beyond For Food Safety. 7th of April is World Health Day, established to commemorate the founding of the WHO (World Health...

7th of April is World Health Day, established to commemorate the founding of the WHO (World Health Organisation) in 1948. The theme for World Health Day 2015 is ‘Food Safety: from farm to plate, make food safe’ (#safefood), a topic very close to our heart here at Akshaya Patra.

According to the WHO an estimated two million people die each year by consuming contaminated food or water. At Akshaya Patra we don’t believe it is sufficient to just provide food to underserved children. It is crucial to make sure the food has been properly cooked in a hygienic way, the ingredients are carefully cleaned before use and the meals meet the nutritional requirements of growing children.

Akshaya Patra has gone to great lengths to ensure food safety in its operations process.

In the pre-production process Supplier Quality Management Systems (SQMS) are implemented to make sure that only the best quality of raw materials is procured for cooking. The SQMS process includes scrutiny in supplier selection, qualification and rating. Even after this, produce is only accepted after a complete quality inspection to make sure that it meets with Akshaya Patra’s Raw Material Specifications, adopted from the Food Safety Standards Act 2006 (FSSA).

After approving the raw produce, the vegetables are sorted to keep them as fresh as possible. They are washed with potable water before being cut for cooking. The cut vegetables are placed in cold storage for a few hours to retain their freshness while other preparations are made for the day’s cooking. In the kitchens the FIFO (First In First Out) or FEFO (First Expiry First Out) process is used to make sure all the vegetables are used efficiently.

All of Akshaya Patra’s cooking equipment meets with the appropriate standards of food safety too. All the equipment from cauldrons, trolleys, rice chutes, dal/sambar tanks, cutting boards, knives etc. are put through a process of steam sterilisation before being used for cooking. The vessels used in the kitchens are made from 304 grade stainless steel, the best for cooking and storing food.

The staff is also carefully trained in the importance of maintaining excellent personal hygiene. All the members therefore follow a regiment of taking daily showers before arriving at the kitchen; using clean uniforms, caps, masks, gloves, gumboots and other protective gear; and regular hand sanitisation to maintain food safety standards in the kitchen. In addition, attractive and easy to understand hygiene charts are placed in easy view around the kitchens for further information. The kitchens have Production Supervisors who oversee the process and make sure that Food Safety Management Systems (FSMS) are in place, and being executed.

Once the food is cooked and packed into the vessels, they are loaded onto Akshaya Patra’s customised meal delivery vans, or the Blue Buses as they are affectionately called. The vehicles are designed with a puffed body to reduce temperature loss, are fitted with a honeycomb structure that keeps the vessels upright and also retains the freshness of the food till it reaches the beneficiary schools. To make sure the food reaches schools in the least amount of time the Foundation utilises logistic charting for route optimisation, and a vehicle tracking system to ensure safe delivery.

Akshaya Patra’s dedication to providing safe, tasty food doesn’t end with delivering the mid-day meal. Frequent feedback is taken from the schools, and measures are put in place to improve the quality of the food. The Foundation also organises regular training sessions to educate the staff on different types of hazards, food poisoning and GMP (Good Manufacturing Processes). Training in HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point), control measures like temperature checks, and emphasis on the importance of communication in food safety is also stressed. Monthly Audits, Quality Metrics Performance Reviews, Detailed Customer Satisfaction Surveys and other such measures are also regularly implemented.

Even with all these measures in place Akshaya Patra believes that there is always room for improvement. Therefore strategies like Kaizen, CI Projects and Six Sigma are constantly being implemented in every one of our kitchens across the country to ensure food safety and efficiency at all times.

Food contamination is something that can occur at any point in the cooking process, but it is something that can easily be avoided with the right knowledge. Akshaya Patra has often been held up as an example for excellence in food safety, even winning the CII National Food Safety Award in 2013 and 2014. We are thrilled to see this vital cause being taken up on a global platform like WHO, so that someday food safety will be within the reach of all.

by Leah George (Akshaya Patra)

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