The FSSAI has prepared a draft that could change the kind of foods that are served in school canteens. The draft of the ‘Guidelines for making available wholesome, nutritious, safe and hygienic Food to School Children’ has been prepared by the Expert Group of the FSSAI. The guidelines contain two parts,
- The first deals with guidelines for making available wholesome and nutritious food to school children
- The second part deals with guidelines on Food Safety, Hygiene and Sanitation for food available in school canteens.
Ever since the Delhi High Court had passed its judgement about junk foods it had asked the Apex Food Regulator to put in place guidelines for healthy and safe food for school children. The Delhi high Court’s judgment had come in the wake of a PIL suit filed in 2010 by a non-government organisation called ‘Uday Foundation’. The NGO had raised concerns about the easy availability of junk foods and carbonated drinks in schools and had sought a ban.
The FFSAI draft guidelines have used the ‘Dietary Guidelines for Indians 2011’ prepared by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) on balanced diet as the basis of the guidelines. According to the NIN guidelines a balanced diet is one that contains basic foods such as cereals, millets, pulses, vegetables, fruits, oils, fats and nuts, milk and animal foods.
Children require special needs for growth, fighting infections, maturation, bone development and body building. Therefore food needs to be balanced as they play an important role in body composition , body mass index, reduced risk of diet related chronic diseases in later life. Burgers, pizzas, fries, chocolates, ice-creams, jams, etc. are not the right choice to meet neither the nutrient needs that is available in a balanced diet nor help children in their growth.
Besides emphasising the need for a balanced diet, FSSAI also recommends limiting the availability of foods high in Fat Sugar and Salt (HFSS foods) among school children. They have made the observation which states that
- Children are not the best judge of food choices as they are not aware of the importance of balanced diet and neither are they aware of the connection between various diseases to diet. Unfortunately children are the biggest viewers of TV and the food advertisements so schools have a duty to educate them to make right food choices
- Since food consumption in school children is and important aspect schools must not encourage canteens to promote food habits that can impact the health of children
- HFSS foods are normally low in essential macro and micronutrients and must be avoided before they become habits in children
FSSAI recommends that the availability of HFSS foods must be restricted or limited in schools and in areas that are within 50 meters of schools since school children do not have the advantage of parental supervision in these places.
FSSAI has named chips, fried foods, sugar sweetened carbonated beverages, sugar sweetened non-carbonated beverages, ready to eat noodles, pizzas, burgers, potato fries, confectionery items as foods that children must not be encouraged to eat as they have an
- Imbalance of nutrients, are low in proteins, fibres, and nuts, high in fats, salts and sugars.
- Other such foods in this category must be identified and the schools must be informed about the same
- Foods like samosas, chana bhatura, etc, must also be regulated through a canteen policy
FSSAI has also recommended the development of a canteen policy to provide nutritional and healthy food in school. They suggest that canteens must not be treated as commercial outlets as they have a social responsibility of inculcating healthy food habits in school children. FSSAI has also recommended a food colour categorisation policy so that it becomes easy for children to make a good food choice. Foods could be categorised by colours in canteens as given below
- Foods to be eaten often – green category
- Foods to be eaten sparingly – yellow category
- Common HFSS foods – red category
School children must be provided 80 % of the green category of foods in school canteens. They also recommend the setting up of a ‘School Health Team’ comprising students, teachers, parents and school canteen operators who will monitor and implement canteen policy. They also feel there is an urgent need to build awareness about healthy foods in parents as well as children.
FSSAI is also considering labelling regulations that will enable disclosure of relevant information so that children can make informed decisions. This is one move that could affect a change in how foods are labelled for children. They are also considering a decrease in the use of transfat as a cooking medium from 10 to 5 per cent.
Guidelines on food safety, hygiene and sanitation for food available in canteen is to be in conjunction with section 4 (Licencing and Registration) Regulations, 2011 Some of the points are
- Building design of school canteen must be located in a clean place away from odours, smoke, dust and contaminants and must not be near toilets
- There must be no wheeled traffic around food preparation and food serving areas
- Canteens must have the right equipment for cooking and serving which is kept clean and disinfected, a refrigeration system, proper inspection of ingredients and raw materials and appropriate storage space.
- Emphasis on the safe handling of cooked and raw foods like salads and fruits and temperatures of foods to be stored at and cooked in,
- Personal hygiene of staff and personal behaviour are outlined
- Waste management and disposal
- Supply of clean water