This might ruin your next train journey! But, the truth is too gross not to know.

A surprise three-day inspection by Northern Railway has found that soft drink bottles for passengers are often stored inside the train’s toilet, while the ice meant for cooling water and beverages stored in pantry car toilets.

The inspection report, which is available with MAIL TODAY, found 18 cases of gross irregularity that include poor and unhygienic packaging of eatables, storage of food in the vestibule close to the lavatories. The inspectors also found that the hot cases in the buffet car were never cleaned.

“The inspection was carried out in five divisions of the Northern Railways from May 9 to 11. In 16 cases, the catering material was kept near the toilets or the doors. In two cases, the ice was kept in the toilet of the pantry car. There were also cases of leftover food scattered in the vestibule near doors,” said the report which was submitted to the Northern Railway headquarters on Friday.

This is not the first case of the Indian Railway serving up a mess to its passengers. There have been instances of passengers getting hospitalised due to food poisoning, and dead insects on the food plate. In July 2017, the Comptroller and Auditor General had rapped the railways saying the food supplied by it was “unsuitable for human consumption”.

The CAG report said contaminated and recycled food, packaged items past their shelf life and unauthorised brands of water bottles were being offered to passengers at stations.

Punitive action has been initiated against the catering contractor.

Recently, a video had gone viral where catering staff were shown using water from the train toilet for making tea. The railway ministry had imposed a fine of `1 lakh on the contractor and initiated the process for cancellation of licence.

These incidents have raised serious concerns over food safety in trains despite promises made by the railway ministry to improve catering services. Last year, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which monitors and regulates the food quality in the country, had raised concerns on food hygiene on trains and asked the Indian Railways to redesign coaches so that food served on trains are not stacked next to the lavatories.

Northern Railway’s chief spokesperson Nitin Chaudhary said punitive action has been initiated against the contractors. “Cleanliness of the pantry material is stacked in the toilets or in vestibules,” he said.

Apart from this, the ticket checking staff has been instructed to check and ensure that no catering material is stacked in the toilets or in vestibules,” he said. “Of 102 inspections, 84 were found to be satisfactory; however, 18 of them were found in violation of norms,” CPRO Chaudhary added.

The joint audit report of the CAG team and the railways based on inspection of 74 stations and 80 trains, had observed: “Unpurified water straight from tap was used in preparation of beverages, waste bins were not found covered, not emptied regularly and not washed, food stuff were not covered to protect them from flies, insects and dust, rats and cockroaches were found in trains, etc.”

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