The Food and Drugs Authority (FDA) acting on a special investigation by The Ghanaian Times, on Friday raided two branches of the Royal Jade Restaurant at East Legon and Dansoman in Accra, for using expired products to prepare food for their customers.
The operations, carried out simultaneously at the two branches, took place after about two months’ of undercover investigations by The Times at the main branch of the restaurant at East Legon.
At the Dansoman branch, the team, led by Mrs Maria Lovelace-Johnson, the Authority’s Head of Foods Safety Management Department, locked up the premises, after retrieving hundreds of the expired Chinese canned food products from the restaurant’s kitchen.
The products, included cans of Po-ku mushroom, with manufacturing date of November 14, 2010 expiring in 2013; Del Monte quality fresh cut cream style corn (produced on May 22, 2009, expiring in 2011), winter bamboo shoots produced on March 27, 2009 expired on December 31, 2012) and mushroom dark soy sauce which had no information of its expiry date.
Mrs Lovelace-Johnson explained that the premises were closed down because its management lacked the commitment of maintaining standards.
She condemned the unhygienic conditions under which food was being prepared for public consumption, saying “the situation is such that we have no option than to lock up the place to protect the public from danger.”
Aside from the expired products found, the FDA team was horrified when it saw the conditions in the kitchen which had been invaded by cockroaches and house flies.
When quizzed, a staff of the restaurant (name withheld), who identified herself as a sales girl, said the management was unconcerned about the health of its customers, alleging that the staff had complained may times about the use of expired products for cooking, but to no avail.
“Some time ago, officials of the Ghana Tourists Authority came here and warned us about some of these things, but I’m afraid nothing seemed to have changed,” she said, but pleaded with the FDA not to lock up the restaurant saying that’s where we make the bulk of our money.”
At the East Legon branch, the team found in the kitchen, potato flour emptied into a huge aluminium bowl, which the kitchen staff insisted had not expired, claiming the flour was poured into the bowl on Tuesday, June 22, and the sack disposed off.
The Times undercover reporter, however, located the sack and smuggled it out only to discover that the production date was March 20, 2011, and March 20, 2014 as the expiry date.
Items The Times took out included the Po-Ku mushroom and cream style corn canned products, all bearing the same expiry dates just as those found at the Dansoman branch.
Investigations have established that the restaurant used a variety of expired products for cooking, but just like the Dansoman situation, the staff said anytime they complained, they were threatened with dismissal.
“You can decide to leave if you think you can’t work here,” they were told.
Upon close scrutiny, some documents made available by the purchasing officer, Ms Jane James-Ocloo, who doubles as the storekeeper, did not tally with statements made by the staff.
One document had it that a canned bamboo food shoots was ordered and served on June 7, this year, although the team was told that the restaurant ran out of the product since 2012.
Indeed, a bamboo product that The Times reporter took from the restaurant had June 2013 as its expiry date.
The team, led by the Head of Food-borne Disease Surveillance, Ben Osei-Tutu, was denied access to the restaurant’s main warehouse where most of the “incriminating” evidence were, with the explanation that the keys to it were with someone who could not be found.
Mr Bruce Jeu, who described himself as the Chief Shareholder of the restaurant, claimed the officer who had the keys was away and he did not have any spare, even though our sources indicated that the key was there.
“I don’t have the keys and there are no spares. But I promise you that next time when you come, there would be no safety issues. We shall close this place for two days for refurbishment,” he pleaded with the FDA.
Despite the insistence by The Times that the police be called in to compel the management to open the warehouse, the FDA officer declined, saying “we have our own method of doing things.”
After waiting for nearly five hours, The Times informed the East Legon police about the situation, but before they arrived, the FDA team decided to seal off the doors to the warehouse and depart, because, according to Mr Osei-Tutu, he had received instruction from his superiors at the Head Office to leave.
The East Legon police, who stormed the restaurant with the intention of forcing the doors open, were, therefore, frustrated.
“Unfortunately, once the FDA people had left, there is absolutely nothing we can do,” the police told The Ghanaian Times, and departed, disappointed.
Investigations by The Ghanaian Times also indicate that the restaurant is operating without permit. Its operational permit had expired on October 17, 2012.
By John Vigah