ET reported on April 15 that changes to the restaurant aggregator’s
‘Severe Food Quality’ rules – which were to take effect from April 18 – can “temporarily disable” online orders if consumers complain about a restaurant’s food quality.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), for its part, has supported the steps proposed by Zomato.
“This shows the importance of screening, approvals and processes undertaken by the FSSAI, and the faith the industry places in our audits and inspections,” FSSAI chief executive Arun Singhal said.
A government official told ET that it would help in facilitating the policy as it will ensure better food quality and hygiene.
In an email sent to restaurants on Friday, Zomato has sought their feedback. “We seek feedback from all our restaurant partners and would like to understand from you how this framework can be strengthened so it can be in the best interest of all stakeholders involved,” Zomato said in the email. ET has reviewed a copy of the email.
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Zomato added that cases that would likely fit the proposed framework have been as rare as 0.001%.
“Please be assured that Zomato will work closely with all our restaurant partners to establish the genuineness of any such complaint received…The disablement will be in consultation with the restaurant management and will only be applicable till necessary remedial actions are undertaken and verified through an FSSAI-approved hygiene and safety auditor,” the restaurant aggregator platform said.
Overstepping its mandate
NRAI president Kabir Suri discussed the association’s concerns with Zomato cofounder Mohit Gupta on Friday. The association, which represents over 500,000 restaurants across the country, is seeking to avoid unfair implementation of the policy during its meeting next week.
“While the intent of the policy is understandable, the implementation leaves a lot of grey areas and scope for misuse. Further, the action of delisting is draconian,” Suri said in a statement. “We have initiated a dialogue with the Zomato team and conveyed our views. They will be meeting with us next week to resolve this in a better, more inclusive way, keeping all stakeholders in mind.”
Restaurants allege that Zomato is overstepping its role as a food aggregator to check restaurants’ food hygiene when FSSAI – as a statutory body – is already overseeing food safety and regulation across eateries.
“This is outside the jurisdiction of Zomato. They are an aggregator. Any issues that consumers may have about the quality of food has to be between the consumer and FSSAI. We, at the restaurant level, are equipped to resolve all consumer complaints,” said Anjan Chatterjee, chairman of Speciality Restaurants, a listed entity that operates Mainland China and Oh! Calcutta.
The list of actionable complaints ranges from serving pre-packaged food items that have gone past their expiry dates to serving the wrong type of meat, presence of hazardous foreign objects in food like animal/animal parts or sharp and inedible objects. It also includes serving non-vegetarian food instead of vegetarian and other health hazards like fungus or rotten food.
NRAI said that the policy, a first-of-its-kind, was being introduced without consulting restaurants and allowed Zomato to exert an undue influence on eateries listed on its app.
Singhal of FSSAI said that the regulator’s existing ‘hygiene rating scheme’ for hotels, restaurants and bakeries was voluntary.
Under the system, FSSAI has created a checklist that restaurants and hotels need to meet based on hygiene and sanitation standards in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.
The food business is audited based on the checklist and given a rating by a third-party audit agency empanelled by FSSAI.
A certificate-based on this rating is displayed for consumers at the premises. This is intended to inform consumers that the place has been inspected and certified for its hygiene and safety standards.
In 2017, Zomato introduced Food Hygiene Ratings where it sent “accredited third-party auditors” to conduct surprise physical food hygiene audits at participating restaurants.
These ratings were displayed next to the restaurant partner’s name.
As of 2019, 10,000 restaurants had voluntarily participated in the programme, which is no longer active.
Zomato and NRAI have had a history of spats.
On multiple occasions, the restaurant body has protested several schemes of the food delivery app. In August 2019, 300 restaurants under NRAI launched a logout campaign and delisted themselves from the app.
Last year, NRAI launched an order-direct campaign to protest high commissions and alleged data masking by food aggregators Zomato and rival Swiggy.
Just ahead of Zomato’s initial public offering last year, NRAI also filed a complaint with the Competition Commission of India against the online food ordering platforms, highlighting concerns such as bundling of services, data masking and exorbitant commissions.
Earlier this month, CCI
ordered a probe into Zomato and Swiggy over alleged unfair pricing practices.