Food safety in India: The inside out approach

• India’s food regulator Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has worked admirably in the requisite direction to escalate India’s food standards. We can simply observe this by analysing the USFDA rejection data.
• From September 2019 to January 2020, there is a clear indication that rejection of export consignments from India is lesser than China. In fact, China is facing continuous rise in rejection by USFDA.
• At present, FSSAI is working on mapping the food classification under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, with that of the HS Code to ensure uniform enforcement processes for domestic and imported food products.
• FSSAI is trying to address the meat and marine market in particular. Across the past few months, FSSAI has taken couple of steps including conducting, a third-party audit of all municipal slaughterhouses.

Domestic consumers in India are solely dependent on The Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) standards of regulation from the point of view of quality – “a matter of trust”. No trade body or export promotion council is fully focused on agricultural and food products. Coverage of food products under Export Inspection Council is at bare minimum. Therefore, the responsibility of FSSAI becomes all the more critical in protecting domestic consumers health.

Some of the basic functions of FSSAI includes the following:

• Framing of Rules, Regulations, Standards and Guidelines in relation to articles of food.
• Procedure and the enforcement of quality control on any article imported into India.
• Guidelines for accreditation of certification bodies engaged in certification of Food Safety Management System for food business.
• Providing scientific advice and technical support to the Central Government and State Governments in matter of framing the policy and rules in areas, which have a direct or indirect bearing of food safety and nutrition.
• Capacity building through training programs for various stakeholders in food safety and standards.
• Contribute to the development of International Technical Standards for food, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has tied up with Global Food Safety Partnership (GFSP) for training its lab personnel on high-end testing of mycotoxins, pesticide residues and veterinary drug residues in Singapore and at the University of Maryland in the United States.

Accepted MRLs by EU, USFDA and FSSAI

S.No. Food Category Micro organism heir toxins metabolites Limits mM Stage where criterion apply
1. Ready to eat food able to support L. monocytogenes Other than intended for infants Listeria monocytogenes 100cfu/ g Absenc e in 25g Shelf life before left the control of BOs
2. Ready to eat food unable to support L. monocytogenes Other than intended for infants Listeria monocytogenes 100cfu/ g Shelf life
3. Pre-cut fruits and vegetables Ready-to-eat salmonella Absence in 25 mg Shelf life
4. Process Hygine: Pre-cut fruits and vegetables Ready-to-eat E.Coli 100cfu/ g Manufacturing process

FSSAI has worked in requisite direction to escalate India’s food standards. We can observe this by analysing the USFDA rejection’s data. From September 2019 to January 2020, there is a clear indication that rejection of export consignments from India is lesser than China’s rejection. In fact, China is facing continuous rise in rejection by USFDA. Conversely, rejections for India have reduced in comparison to 7,326 rejections during 2015-17.

Source: USFDA Rejection Data

In January 2020, the USA rejected 218 consignments from China for F&B and pharma products. From India 112 consignments were rejected. Currently major Indian products rejected by USFDA include spices, shrimps and prawns, vitamins and proteins, honey, sweet biscuits and flavoured snacks.

At present, the Food Safety Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is working on mapping the food classification under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, with that of the HS Code to ensure uniform enforcement activity for the domestic and imported food products. The mapping would ensure uniform testing protocols for imported as well as domestic products, thereby creating harmony between the enforcement activity for the two sectors and strengthening of the food safety ecosystem in a holistic manner. Once there is the common codification, the process of testing and sampling become absolutely standardised for both imported and domestic products.

Government funding on food safety has been raised about five times. The regulator is expected to soon introduce new labelling norms for the Rs 2.3-lakh crore food industry. FSSAI has also announced that it would be setting up 12 new facilities including six new branch offices, four import offices and two food laboratories to ensure pan India presence and awareness.

The role of FSSAI becomes even more important in the current pandemic. With spread of COVID 19 virus, India’s domestic meat and marine sectors are also expected to face the heat of plummeting demand. But on the other hand, FSSAI is trying to pacify and ameliorate the meat and marine market. Across the past few months, FSSAI has taken a couple of steps including conducting, a third-party audit of all the municipal slaughterhouses. It is also trying to introduce hygienic rating schemes for meat shops and slaughter houses.

The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) is diligently scrutinizing developments around the Covid-19 epidemic. The MoHFW in unification with the wider Ministry of Food Processing Industries and FSSAI will need to keep an eye out on the situation in order to successively gather and screen evidences from global agencies and scientific groups of any such transmission resulting in COVID-19.

Going forward, the key focus areas of the FSSAI, as recognised by its Chairperson Ms Rita Teaotia, are on “strengthening the enforcement and surveillance systems”. This would involve additional human resources, systematic surveillance, enhancing the NABL accredited testing infrastructure, and efforts like Safe Food on Wheels and Eat Right for confidence building and awareness among both consumers and industry. While FSSAI is not yet mandated to regulate safety in food exports, the impact of its initiatives is already visible in the improved standards of Indian food products being exported across the world.

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