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A Mumbai beer plant brewing a public health issue?

An ad for the Kingfisher brand of beer sold by United Breweries. Image credit: Olexdj [CC BY-SA 3.0 (]
United Breweries is India’s biggest producer of beer – but an inspection has found stunning sanitation lapses. 

The brewing giant, which claims to account for more than fifty percent of beer production in India and saw its revenue grow by 21 percent in the 2018 financial year, was flagged on several concerning grounds by the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA) following an inspection carried out last year at one of its plants in Mumbai. The FDA’s investigation, led by Denise Connelly, occurred in August 2018. Its establishment inspection report has recently been detailed in the Indian media following requests sent by the Press Trust of India. 

The FDA found that workers did not have access to toilet paper in restrooms and that a hand-washing station “at the entrance to the bottling facility” lacked “soap, running water, and hand-drying equipment.” In addition, Connelly observed peeling paint on walls and “a leak from the windows and a puddle of water on the floor” in a sugar storage room. 

In a potential contamination issue, five live birds were observed in the warehouse itself, with Connelly describing themflying and perching throughout the beer can raw storage section”, with “one bird perched over the bottle storage section.” Concerningly, Connelly also “observed faeces on packages of cans in the warehouse” and did not see birds mentioned in pest control records.

In response, officials said steps were being taken to prevent the entry of birds into the facility including “double doors…installed on the dock door” and sealing gaps in the building. It also said proper sanitary supplies such as toilet paper would be provided to employees; that walls with peeling paint would be repainted; and that leaks would be sealed. 

The issue of potential contamination issues in the brewery comes against the backdrop of frequent food poisoning issues in India. In fact, food poisoning accounts for the second most common infectious disease outbreak in India. Considering this, vigilance by regulators is imperative; however, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India inspect fewer than one percent of Indian products properly according to a 2018 government report. With this in mind, it is important not to regard the brewery contamination issues as an isolated incident but a national issue. Pressure must be applied to the relevant authorities to step up and take note of sanitation and safety lapses, to avoid outbreaks and potential loss of life.

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