Vada pav for Rs7, chhole samosafor Rs12, masala dosa for Rs20 and noodles for Rs30…this is the menu list of the main canteen at the University of Mumbai’s Kalina campus. Other campus canteens too have more or less same rate cards. Sounds cheap?
DNA went behind the scenes to find out how canteens maintain such low costs after paying Rs5-8,000 rent and Rs8-15,000 electricity bills every month. The answer was that most canteens compromise on hygiene to keep prices low.
In all big colleges, canteens have minimal staff, mostly 6-10 and to reduce costs they hire as few people as they can. “We sleep here, take bath in the kitchen and get the food readied by 8am,” a canteen contractor told DNA on condition of anonymity.
This food is being served almost whole day, sometimes using microwave oven. The raw food items procured are also compromised on quality. “We chop the vegetables a day before, refrigerate and wash next day. Utensils are washed in a bucket, but we wipe them,” said a cook.Since unclean utensils and towels harbour microbes, they may cause food poisoning.
Suhas HK, Canteen person from Kalina campus admitted, “We wash all utensils in vim every second day. We try to maintain hygiene as much as possible. But we can’t say that we are doing the best.”
He added, “Price war is really a major issue. Footpath stalls outside all the colleges are selling at a cheaper rate and despite cooking next to gutters, students don’t mind eating there. We have to pay rent, maintain hygiene, arrange chairs and tables and uniform to our people, so we can’t compete with them and we can’t raise the price also because then we will lose the ‘customers’ to them.”
Students have another say. “We get really less pocket money so we tend to find cheapest place. But if we are guaranteed safe food, we don’t mind spending little more,” said Rohan S, an SYJC student from Ruia College.