Deaths related to food poisoning due to consumption of Arabic dishes has been plaguing Kerala

On Tuesday, January 17, at least 70 students were admitted to various hospitals in Ernakulam district in Kerala after having food at an eatery, Majlis Hotel, in the district’s North Paravoor area. According to reports, these students suffered severe food poisoning after they consumed Arabic dishes- Kuzhimanthi, Alfaham and Shawai from this hotel the night before. They were rushed to the hospital after developing symptoms like vomiting, diarrhoea, body pain and uneasiness.

As per reports, twenty-eight out of these affected people, including two children, were admitted to Paravur Taluk Hospital, and 20 to private hospitals. Two people were later shifted to Ernakulam medical college hospital after their condition deteriorated. Those who have eaten from here have sought treatment in other districts as well.

Later, authorities closed down a hotel in the town from where the food was ordered. The head cook of Majlis Hotel, named Hasainar (50) was arrested and later remanded by the court. The police said that he had gone into hiding after the incident came to the fore. Local media outlet Matrabhumi, reported that the FIR filed by the Ernakulam police in the case did not mention the name of the licensed owner of the hotel in question.

The State health minister Veena George has informed that the restaurant’s licence has been revoked. Action was taken based on a report submitted by the food safety commissioner. It further read that a case has been registered against the owner of the restaurant and an investigation is on.

Speaking on the mishap, North Paravur municipal chairperson V A Prabhavati said the hotel was shut down and health authorities have collected enough samples before it was closed down. “Most of the affected were students of the arts and science college in the town as it was the last day of examination and they ordered food together as part of their celebration. In most cases symptoms are similar. We will step up our checks on all eating joints in view of this,” she said.

This is not the first case of food poisoning reported from the state of Kerala; in recent months, several other persons have died in various parts of the state as a result of acute food poisoning, most of which occurred after consuming Arabic and Arabian culinary preparations.

Kerala women dies from food poisoning after consuming Arabic dishes ‘Kuzhimanthi’ and Al Fahm’

Earlier this month, a 20-year-old woman died after consuming ‘Kuzhimanthi’, a variety of biryani allegedly ordered from a local hotel. Police said that Anju Sriparvathy, a resident of Perumbala, had consumed Kuzhimanthi, which she ordered online from a restaurant called Romancea in Kasargod, on December 31.

Then too, State Health Minister Veena George initiated an investigation into the incident. George told reporters in Pathanamthitta that the Commissioner of Food Safety has been instructed to submit a report on the matter. She stated that under the Food Safety and Standards Act, hotels accused of food poisoning will have their licences revoked (FSSA).

Prior to Anju Sriparvathy’s death, a nurse at Kottayam Medical College died allegedly after consuming food from a Kozhikode eatery. Nurse Reshmi Raj (33) had ordered the Arabic chicken dish ‘Al Fahm’ from a restaurant called Hotel Park here. Her health deteriorated after consuming the food. She was taken to the hospital in severe condition and died there. Later, the health of 20 more people who ate from the same hotel deteriorated, and they were hospitalized in various hospitals.

In the same district, nearly 100 people had fallen sick after eating food served at a baptism ceremony.

Similarly, a 9-year-old child died of food poisoning in December last year after consuming ‘Kuzhimanthi’ from a fast-food outlet in Kattangal, Kerala.

Likewise, in May last year, a 16-year-old girl named Devananda had died following acute food poisoning at Cheruvathur in Kasaragod district. Not only Devananda, but around 30 people, mostly schoolchildren, who had eaten the same food – chicken wrap or shawarma, an Arabic cuisine – were hospitalised at the same time with signs of acute food poisoning.

‘Kuzhimanthi’ (mandi) is a Lebanese dish similar to biryani that is extremely popular throughout the Middle East. Manthi has been immensely popular in Kerala in recent years, resulting in the emergence of several Manthi restaurants throughout the state.

According to food experts, the main deterrents in Shawarma and Manthi-related food poisoning instances are undercooked meat and mayonnaise, which spoils quickly.

Rotten ‘Tsunami chicken’ and stale oil used to prepare Arabic dishes seized by authorities

Amid the rising number of deaths due to the food poisoning incidents in Kerala, the Kerala Food Safety Department took action and closed 40 hotels, fined 62, and warned 28 others. Besides, more than 500 hotels and eateries around the state have been raided. During one such raid conducted on January 12, the authorities sized around 500 kg of rotten ‘Tsunami chicken’ kept for distribution to halal hotels from Ernakulam.

The rotten meat was confiscated from a rented house at Kaipadamugal near the defunct Kalamassery HMT Machine Tools Ltd.

Additionally, 150 kg of stale oil that looked like bitumen used in road construction was also seized during the inspection. 

The health officials said that the stored stinking meat was supposed to be sold to restaurants and wayside eateries in Kochi.

Accoridng to reports, both the rotten meat and stale oil are being used to make Arabic dishes like Shawarma, Alfaham and Mandi, the consumption of which has lately been causing the fatalities in the state.

Local residents, who were no longer able to bear the stench of rotting flesh intimated the authorities, following which the rais was conducted. The authorities stated that unlicensed establishment belonged to Junais, a native of Mannarkkad on the Malappuram-Palakkad border. 

Over 50 eateries procured ‘rotten’ meat from accused supplier

According to reports, over 50 hotels and restaurants operating in various parts of Ernakulam district had procured meat from the aforementioned supplier.

“We recovered bill books and registers from the house. The bill books has details of hotels and retailers who procured the chicken meat. After going through the seized documents, it is revealed that the accused persons were the main supplier of chicken meat to hotels in Kochi and other parts of the district,” P R Santhosh, Station House Officer, Kalamassery Police Station said.

“They were supplying meat to hotels in Aluva, Angamaly, Kalamassery, Edappally and Thrikkakara area. They called it as ready-to-cook chicken. They supplied the meat at a 50% discount to the retail price of chicken. Junais procured these chicken from Hyderabad and transported it to Kochi by train,” a police officer said.

Kerala HC seeks report from govt amid rising number of food poisoning cases in the state

With the rising number of food poisoning incidents reported from various parts of the state, the Kerala High Court took judicial notice of the situation on Wednesday, January 18 and demanded a report from the state government on the steps taken by them to tackle the issue.

A bench of Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly stated that several incidents of food poisoning have occurred recently and directed the Secretary of the Health and Family Welfare Department to “file a detailed report setting out the occurrences, steps taken against the perpetrators, etc.”

Owing to several such cases reported in the span of few months, the State Government has made health cards mandatory for all hotel employees. Any hotel or restaurant found employing staff who do not take health cards would be prohibited from operating beginning February 1, 2023, according to State Health Minister Veena George.

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