Indian food delivery apps now have slick user-interfaces, beautifully-shot pictures of food, and clever marketing campaigns, but what happens under the hood might not be quite as savoury.
As many as 30 to 40% of restaurants on India’s food delivery apps don’t have a valid FSSAI license or registration, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India discovered during an inspection last month. E-commerce platforms are only allowed to list restaurants that have a direct FSSAI licenses, but appear to be flouting the laws in their bid to quickly expand their reach.
The inspections were carried out after the FSSAI received complaints of sub-standard food being served through platforms including Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda, UberEats and others. The apex body that then ordered these platforms to delist any non-FSSAI licensed businesses from their platform by 31st July. FSSAI has now said that it’s now begun conducting audits to see if the orders have been carried out.
While making note of the discovery, FSSAI also took a dig at the tactics of food delivery apps — FSSAI CEO Pawan Agarwal appealed to aggregators to begin to use some of their resources in food safety training and capacity building of listed restaurants so as to improve overall food safety and hygiene, rather than merely focusing on deep discounts and aggressive marketing. The aggregators were also advised to promote food safety and hygiene among the listed food businesses through the services of food safety supervisors. They were asked to also encourage the listed food businesses to comply with Good Hygiene Practices (GHP) and display ‘Food Safety Boards’ on their premises.
The problem of unlicensed restaurants finding an audience appears to have been exacerbated by the cloud kitchen concept that’s become so in vogue over the last few years. Not too long ago, food delivery apps listed physical restaurants that had been operating for a while, and whose physical locations and general hygiene standards could be verified in person. Now little delivery-only kitchens have mushroomed all over India, thanks to the distribution channels offered by these food delivery apps, and they clearly don’t seem to be particularly fastidious about following the food and safety laws of the country.
It’s unclear to what degree food delivery apps scrutinize restaurants before allowing them on their platform, but if 30-40% of all listed restaurants don’t have FSSAI certificates, it does raise questions over what standards are being complied with. And it could well cause users to think twice before they order a cheap biryani from a restaurant that they’ve never heard of, but which happens to be listed on their favourite food delivery app.