Cleanliness is next to godliness and cooking is bhakti (devotion). Putting this idea into daily practice, the central kitchen of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) at Tardeo cooks mid-day meals for 64,000 students of 431 government-aided schools in the city.
“Cooking is devotion; we cook food for god. Children are representatives of god. Nobody offers food cooked in dirty places to god. We follow the same principles,” said Radhakrishna Das, managing director, ISKCON Food Relief Foundation.
When the Foundation started the Tardeo kitchen in 2004, it used to cater to 900 schoolchildren. In the last seven years, the number has gone up to 64,000.
Tardeo is the first central kitchen which ISKCON opened in the country and today 24 such kitchens serve midday meals to 12 lakh children across the country.
“You cannot run a kitchen without following rules of hygiene. Every three years, we do a third party audit of our kitchens. We use only the best stainless steel tiffin boxes to deliver food,” said Das.
“Our 20 cooks neither smoke nor drink and all are vegetarian. Every six months, we conduct a health check-up of all employees who work in the kitchen. Every week, the kitchen supervisor checks the finger nails of people working here. The cloth used in the kitchen is washed every day.”
It is mandatory for all kitchen staff, including helpers and cooks, to wear proper gear. Apart from the uniform, the cook and staff have to wear aprons, shoes, gloves and caps. Without permission, outsiders cannot enter the central kitchen area. Visitors have to remove their shoes at the canteen main gate and use slippers if they want to enter.
“We also follow strict health parameters in our storage room. Every day, we buy fresh vegetables from farmers in Nashik. All vegetables are washed in potassium permanganate,” said Yashwant Shetty, branch manager of the kitchen.
“We also have another kitchen at Mira Road to cater to students in that area. This kitchen serves students in the area between CST and Mulund and from Churchgate to Bandra. We test our khichdi in the laboratory to see whether students are getting the right nutrients and calories.”
“Students enjoy the khichdi from the ISKCON kitchen and the parents’ feedback is very good. We have no complaints. They maintain proper hygiene while they bring khichdi to school and make meals tastier by cooking different types of khichdi,” said a BMC schoolteacher from Prabhadevi, on condition of anonymity.