The country’s Food Regulator had issued an order way back in November 2014, which was actually a continuation of the statutory advisory dated, 14 May 2014. Both these communications from the FSSAI had stated that the limit of iron filings in tea was to remain at 150mg/kg. The FSSAI had in the same order stated that prosecution of FBOs must not be launched till 23 May 2015 or till further orders, whichever was earlier. Following these a third order was issued on 25 May 2015 extending the timeline for prosecution up to 21 November 2015 of those FBOs that were found not to be in compliance with the150mg/kg limit of iron filings in tea.
The FSSAI then issued directions under Section 16 (5) of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which stated that the standards prescribing the limit of not more than 150mg/kg of iron filings was approved by the Food Authority. A draft notification in this regard had been issued earlier on 4 December 2015 inviting comments and suggestions from all stakeholders. The Enforcement Authorities of the States/ UTs had been instructed to implement these prescribed standards mentioned in the draft notification till a final notification was issued.
On 19 May 2016, an order was again issued by the FSSAI. In this particular order the FSSAI stated that since there was no reliable method of assessing/testing of samples of iron filings in tea, the Enforcement Authorities should inspect tea factories rather than retailers. This order was to be followed till such time as the assessment and testing methods were finalized. The inspection of tea factories would ensure that FBOs involved in processing/ manufacturing tea would operate with the requisite equipment for the removal of iron filings from tea.
On 1 November 2016, the FSSAI operationalized the notification which changed and fixed the upper limit of iron filings in tea from 150mg/kg to 250mg /kg. In this regards a Gazette notification dated 29 December 2016 was issued in which the standards for TEA (2.10.1) in the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 was amended. Under the category TEA in regulation 2.10 – BEVERAGES, (Other than Dairy and Fruits & Vegetables based) the standards for the limit of iron filings in tea was fixed at 250mg/kg and inserted as
Iron Filings (mg/kg) – Not more than 250.
After examining the matter the FSSAI has come to the conclusion that, till a reliable method of assessment/testing of filings in tea is finalized it would not be appropriate to carry out prosecutions for non-conformance. Neither does FSSAI deem it fit to pursue or continue prosecutions launched under the PFA Act/ FSSA prior to the order dated 19 May 2016. Therefore the FSSAI has informed all Commissioners of Food Safety of all States/ UTs not to launch prosecutions for non-conformance in the samples that were picked up for testing or tested prior to 19 May 2016. The FSSAI has also asked them to withdraw all such prosecutions which were made prior to this date, either under the PFA Act 1954 or FSS Act 2006.