A Round Table was held by FSSAI on 22 March 2017 at India International Centre, New Delhi where the food safety, quality and supply chain management were discussed. The participants included Mr Ashish Bahuguna, Chairman FSSAI, Mr JP Meena, Special secretary MoFPI, Prof Swaminathan, Founder of MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, Dr. Ajit Kumar, Vice Chancellor NIFTEM, Dr Saurabh Arora, Executive Director Food Safety Helpline and other eminent stalwarts from the food industry. The CEOs Round Table made a number of recommendations about some of the issues that lead to poor food safety and quality.
Two major areas of worry were the increase in foodborne diseases and disputes on food safety and quality requirements in international trade. It has been recommended that quality issues need to be resolved at every stage of the food chain at the pre-production, production and post-production levels. The recommendations also suggest specific training programmes for farmers to sensitise them about food quality standards and why it is important to adhere to these standards during crop production and storage. It was recommended that SMEs also be brought within the ambit of the training so that only safe food enters the marketing chain. These training programmes will be designed and implemented with KVKs.
At the food production stage some of the prevalent cultivation practices need to be revisited so farmers can be made aware about how they can enhance food quality and get good prices for their produce. One of the examples cited was that of mangoes where because of the pick and drop harvesting as well as the length of the stalk attached to the mangoes affects shelf life. Another measure farmers can undertake to improve the quality of their produce is to adopt mechanisation. The requirement of cold chain and reefer trucks are equally important to prevent spoilage of perishable farm produce during transit to processing units. It is imperative for transport personnel to be aware of storage and temperature requirements so the quality of the produce does not deteriorate. FSSAI has recommended a short term diploma course for transporters through which they will be able to obtain a licence to transport perishable commodities.
The majority of players in the food and agriculture sector of the economy belong to the unorganized sector. It therefore, falls upon the government to devise a strategy that will make the sector aware of how food safety and quality are required for the benefit of the larger population. In recent years food safety concerns have also arisen because of the rampant use of chemical pesticides which lead to harmful residues. The government must develop natural pesticides and promote their use throughout the country to prevent the use of chemical pesticides. There is little awareness among farmers about GAP certification but an increase in awareness and benefits of implementation will result in better quality produce in the market.
FSSAI’s has taken steps to categorize food products available in market under 9 categories. This action is being seen as a roadmap for success of industry though the process will be complete only after certain clarifications from the industry. The requirement is that FSSAI come up with distinguishable specifications for each category of products to avoid any kind of confusion. For a timely completion of this activity, a helpdesk or redressal window would also be required in case there is a need to clarify doubts.
A different kind of recommendation was made about changing the demand and supply pattern. It is well known that the market is governed by demand and supply. However, there can be a shift in this paradigm, if instead of demand, based on the principles of economics, there is an increase in the demand for safe and quality food. Suppliers will need to follow food safety measures and supply the demand for safe and quality food. This shift can be possible only through consumer awareness. The Round Table recommends the launch of an awareness campaign to promote safe and quality food among consumers.
Another area where awareness about food safety needs to be increased is in eating out. In today’s scenario a large percentage of food is consumed outside the home. Consumers in the higher economic bracket go to medium and high class of eateries but those with low incomes fulfil their needs through street foods. Hence there is a need to create awareness of food safety standards among operators and consumers in equal measure. The role for spreading awareness for maintaining hygiene and food safety can be a shared between government and private sector.
As already pointed out food safety is a chain activity and if pre-production and production are important so is post-harvest handling of foods. Attention must therefore be drawn to the following areas
- ambient controlled field storage
- primary processing including sorting, grading, cleaning
- preparing for transportation
It is recommended that all these activities be promoted at cluster level for better traceability. At the same time infrastructure related to Collection Centres and Mandis needs immediate improvement as farm produce is often damaged due to poor handling and delays. There is a suggestion to develop better and safer packaging so that the use of plastic as a packaging material can be phased out.