The railways wants passengers to count calories as you eat train food but can’t trust the cooks enough to ensure the plan stays on track.
A plan to list calorie and other nutritional nuggets on Rajdhani, Shatabdi and Duronto food has been red-flagged by the railway board, which fears problems in standardisation and a rash of lawsuits.
Officials in the railway ministry’s catering division submitted a concept note after a month of planning for the labels that would mention calories and nutritional content on such food – from cutlets and omelettes to rice, vegetables, lentils and non-vegetarian dishes.
The officials studied examples of ready-to-eat and cooked food items in other countries and in their note, said more and more rail caterers were moving towards such practices. “Putting information on nutrition will help consumers,” the official said.
As part of the plan, government-owned hotel management institutes and the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition were to be consulted in preparing a uniform list of ingredients, their proportions, and nutritional and calorific values.
But senior officials in the board raised concerns. “The proposal was to provide a standardised format of ingredients to all food contractors who would be asked to stick to it. But the board felt the cooks could not be trusted with the ingredients, particularly oils and spices,” a board official said. “Members also expressed concern that any discrepancies between labels and the actual values could lead to litigation.”
The menus in the 22 sets of Rajdhanis, 24 sets of Shatabdis and 27 sets of Durontos are fixed and mostly include tea, soup, breadsticks, snacks, and vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals that include chapattis, rice, pulses, chicken and vegetables. The food is provided by private contractors or through the rail-owned Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation.
IRCTC public affairs head Sandip Dutta said: “There have been constant efforts to enhance the quality of food provided in trains and if this one add-on helps passengers, there is no harm in trying it.”
V. Sudershan Rao, a scientist with the food safety division of the National Institute of Nutrition, said: “Nutritional information on ready-to-eat meal packets on trains would be a welcome step. Several surveys have shown that a large percentage of consumers read labels thoroughly and then exercise their choice of food.”