Over the past five years, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has made much progress in setting up food standards. While standards have been completed for a substantive number of foods including the recent standards for nutraceuticals, health supplements, and fortified foods, yet a lot of work still remains incomplete. Besides setting standards, the FSSAI thinks it is as important to have in place quality norms and streamlined procedures for enforcement of the food quality standards it has set, or food safety will not translate into complete success.
Of late the FSSAI has been collecting samples of milk and honey sold in the market as it has received some complaints about the quality. These are just some of the food products for which enforcement procedures need to be in place as surveillance for a whole range of other food products is required to ensure complete food safety for the consumer. Pawan Kumar Agarwal, CEO FSSAI has recently emphasized the need to have Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) in place for regulatory authorities also. Since there are no such procedures in place food inspectors and enforcement agencies use discretionary powers, and that means there is no uniform SOP in the country to tackle non-compliance of regulations.
To counter this shortfall the FSSAI has already set up a technical panel that will work out the Standard Operating Procedures which would form the basis for enforcement agencies, the food, and beverage industry as well as third-party auditors. Product recall is another area that the FSSAI is working on. The government has sanctioned Rs.500 crore to upgrade the government food testing laboratories in the various states. FSSAI currently operates two food testing laboratories in Kolkata and Ghaziabad and state government run 82 laboratories. Despite this, there is a shortage and the Food Authority is therefore in the process of setting up regulations for third-party audits to strengthen food safety.
There is no doubt that a number of food companies in India voluntarily hire NABL certified and FSSAI approved laboratories to inspect the safety parameters of their products. However, third-party audits are not mandatory in India through such audits are the norm in a number of countries. Therefore, FSSAI could soon make third-party audits mandatory, especially for high-risk food categories, so the food safety environment gets a boost. FBOs can expect the mandatory third-party audit guidelines to be notified sooner than later.
The FSSAI feels that there is a lot of incomplete work on compliance and conformity assessment for ensuring food safety. They would like to encourage a self-regulatory climate to ensure food safety because the current infrastructure and strength are not really enough to ensure complete surveillance and food safety. For example the samples of milk and honey recently collected will need to be tested on 21 new parameters which amount to much work. This is why self-regulation and third-party audits are required as they could go a long way to help improve food quality and make food safer for consumers. Even the Codex Alimentarius Commission would like to see better protection of consumers’ health by making food safety a priority. Food safety can improve in the country if all stakeholders contribute towards it.