IRCTC gears up to supply more than one lakh meals daily

Aiming to provide over one lakhmeals daily, Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) is setting up large-base kitchens at metropolises to cater to PSUs, BPOs and corporate houses across the country.

“We are setting up base kitchens with state-of-the-art equipment at metropolises. While a huge modern kitchen is already operational at Noida, four more such facilities are going to be functional at Kolkata, Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore shortly,” said an IRCTC official.

There is a growing clientele of PSUs, MNCs, and various educational institutes, where there is a huge demand of fresh hygienic and healthy food.

“We have undertaken a survey to assess the demand for packed meals in offices and accordingly have decided to go ahead with the plan. Our endeavour is to provide the meals at reasonable prices,” he said.

“Our target is to prepare about 1.25 lakh daily meals, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian,” the official added, adding each kitchen will be equipped to prepare 25,000 packed hot meals per day.
The sites for base kitchen in Chennai and Kolkata are already being acquired while talks are in advance stages to finalise them in Mumbai and Bangalore.

It is estimated to cost about Rs. 5.5 crore to set up a modern kitchen equipped with latest technology to prepare 25,000 meals a day. A meal will cost between Rs. 50 and Rs. 75. The proposed IRCTC kitchens are to be fully automated with minimum human touch and with latest equipment.

“There will be a proper training for the staff to manage the kitchen. Besides vegetarian and non-vegetarian meals, there will be also Chinese and continental dishes to be prepared depending on the clientele,” the official said.

In order to ensure quality and hygienic standard, the central kitchen will have in-house laboratory for testing of raw materials and prepared food. There will also be vegetable washing and sanitising machines installed next to the cooking area.

IRCTC kitchen will have automatic chapati making machine to churn out about 1,000 per hour, vegetable cutting machine with capacity to cut 400 kg of vegetables per hour.Besides, there will be RO water treatment plant for all cooking, temperature controlled storage and solar energy usage for hot water supply at these base kitchens.

The state-of-the-art kitchens will have all relevant statutory compliances like medical tests for the food-handlers and microbiological tests of food samples besides ensuring good quality raw materials and ingredients.

Rly to offer economy meal

After the popularity of ‘janta meal’, the Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation Limited (IRCTC) is all set to launch Janahaar Plazas offering cooked food at affordable prizes at railway stations across in the country.

Under the plan, Chandigarh , Ludhiana and Jammu would be among the few stations where these plazas would be introduced in the first phase by March 2010.

“These air-conditioned plazas, to be operated and managed by the IRCTC, would have both standing and seating arrangements. It has been decided that the food platter served at these plazas would be below Rs 20. These plazas have been conceptualized keeping in mind the scarcity of eateries for the public including the general-class passengers,” said IRCTC Group General Manager (Catering) Aneet Dulat.

Though the menus for these plazas have not been decided yet, it is expected that the food would be region specific with a touch of the local cuisine. For instance, the menu will offer karhi chawal or rajma chawal or chana kulcha in the Northern railways section.

All-woman teams to inspect railway food

There is good news for those travelling on South Eastern Railway trains. While the food served on board may be cooked by men, its quality will be inspected by a group of woman officers who will look at things from a woman’s point of view’. With railway minister Mamata Banerjee assuring passengers of better amenities on board, SER came up with the idea to set up all-woman teams in all its divisions to carry out surprise checks on base kitchens and pantry cars.

“Women look at things differently. These teams will check whether the food being served is healthy and hygienic and is served in adequate quantity,” said A K Jain, general manager, SER.

True to his word, the team from the SER headquarters, headed by Indrani Banerjee, assistant commercial manager, reservation, carried out surprise checks on pantry cars and the base kitchen in Howrah that prepares food for the Rajdhanis.

“The base kitchen is extremely important as it will have to prepare food for the Duronto train that will ply between Howrah and Mumbai,” a senior SER officer said.

On September 1, Banerjee boarded the Up Gitanjali
Express from Howrah with other team members. “We pretended to be passengers. Immediately after the train started, catering staff started serving samosas from uncovered baskets. The staff wore no gloves either. While passing from coach to coach, they would grab train fittings to keep balance. They would then serve the samosas with the same hands. We found this extremely unhygienic,” she said.

In the pantry car, the team found that the exhaust fans were off and the kitchen area was stuffy. “Though the train had just started, the floor was wet. The dustbin was uncovered. So were the water containers. In the refrigerator, we found some stale boiled eggs and chicken. A lump of butter had also gone bad. Though the kitchen staff said that they were planning to dispose of the stuff, there is always a possibility of a mistake. We shall prepare a detailed inspection note and submit it,” Banerjee added. Team members also took passengers’ inputs which would be included in the report.

Train Travellers to get ‘desi’ food in trains

NEW DELHI: It seems going ‘desi’ is the flavour this season. The Indian Railways Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) has decided to do away with the continental breakfast, consisting of bread and eggs, that was served to passengers travelling on elite trains like the Rajdhani and Shatabdi. The revised menu that came into effect from this month offers south Indian specialities like idli, poha and vada for breakfast, instead of the usual bread and omlette. Speaking to Times City, R K Tandon, managing director, IRCTC, said the move aimed at “improving the hygiene and quality of food in the trains”.

Tandon said there will be a sincere effort to improve the quality of food and offer more variety to passengers. “The entire exercise will be streamlined so that we can check quality of food at every step. Food items will be segregated and all efforts will be made to ensure that the time gap between when an item is prepared and when it’s finally served is reduced,” said Tandon. For a wider choice in the menu, certain Chinese cuisines might soon be added, claimed sources.

According to Tandon, the emphasis will also be on “health food”. “We plan to replace soft drinks and introduce fruit drinks. We will also be serving branded Basmati rice instead of normal rice,” claimed the IRCTC managing director.

However, senior IRCTC officials admitted that costs have gone up over the years, thus making it difficult to provide the best-quality food at prevailing prices. “The fares have not being revised for a long time. This is adversely affecting our efforts to turn into a profit-making organization,” said an official.

The officers said they would be gathering passenger response in the next six months. “We have introduced the new items on an experimental basis. The changes will be made permanent only after studying passenger response,” he added.

However, passengers don’t seem to be impressed by the changes.Hygiene will improve only through regular cleaning of the pantry car and ensuring food is not laid out in front of the bathroom the common practice now. I do not see how a cold Vada, cooked early morning and served only around 9am, is a substitute to bread-omlette,” said Ajay Maindankar, who travels regularly on the Mumbai Rajdhani.