Sourish Bhattacharyya on the food safety comedy circus

It’s been less than a month since the government made the ill-advised move to ban foie gras (goose liver) imports on the ground that the delicacy is injurious to the birds because of the way they are force-fed to fatten their liver.
Well, foie gras may not be the only sign of refined taste that may disappear from our plates because all hell has been let loose by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Like the misdirected logic of the foie gras ban (name one animal product, starting with milk, that doesn’t involve some form of cruelty or the other!), the rules being pushed by the FSSAI seem to have been conceived at Mad Hatter’s Tea Party.
The Food Safety and Standards Act, without doubt, was legislated in 2006 with the good intention of bringing the provisions of sevenodd central acts, beginning with the antiquated Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act of 1995, under one comprehensive, contemporary legal umbrella. A brainchild of the previous government, it was welcomed by all as a salutary initiative, but the mood changed once the rules framed under the Act came into effect in 2011. It sent food importers running for protective cover, but none was forthcoming.
For starters, the new rules are based on the list of 355 edible food products recognised by the PFA Act of 1955, which is surprising because the Codex Alimentarius, the Bible of food standards prepared jointly, and updated continually, by the World Health Organisation and the Food & Agriculture Organisation, lists more than 3,500 categories (not items!) of edible food products. In what could be a scene straight out of Catch 22, or Comedy Nights with Kapil, the new rules, for instance, allow green olives to be imported, but bar the ones that are black, because it regards black olives as green olives gone bad.
The new rules don’t recognise the existence of mayonnaise, or of sausages, unless they carry a ‘cooked meat’ label. They are OK with cheese made with pasteurised milk, but they don’t allow Parmegiano Reggiano (the original parmesan) access to the Indian market because it is made with milk that is not pasteurised. Nor do they accept that there’s something called ‘canola oil’, leading to a piquant situation where the FSSAI wants canola oil shipments to carry labels describing the product as ‘rapeseed oil’, which their Canadian importers are refusing to do. LABELLING, of course, is another parallel circus act.
Not only is the FSSAI making absurd demands (like insisting that all wine labels must mention expiry dates!), it is asking for all food labels to be translated into English. Try as hard as you may, you cannot get a Japanese sushi rice producer, or a Thai manufacturer of condiments, to invest in a machine dedicated to printing labels in English for the Indian market.
The world uses their products without blinking an eye, so why should they make an investment for a market that, anyway, is quite small! I believe the Japanese had an apoplectic fit when they were asked by FSSAI to produce a health certificate and a certificate of provenance (both in impeccable English!) for each container of fish that arrived from their country.
I foresee two serious consequences of this legal mayhem. One, the unmet demand for imports will increasingly be met by airline and shipping crew ‘hand-carrying’ food items at an exorbitant price. This would hurt the government because of the loss of revenue involved. And if the rest of the world starts viewing the FSSAI actions as non-tariff barriers and starts retaliating, then Indian agricultural exports will suffer more than the imports that are getting blocked because of the food safety circus.
Ambience Mall in Vasant Kunj, long dismissed as the poor cousin of its upscale neighbours (DLF Emporio and Promenade), is fast becoming a gourmet magnet. Its transformation started with the arrival of Yauatcha, the dim sum restaurant from London that opened here after a successful launch in Mumbai, then Starbucks, and finally, Indigo Deli, Rahul Akerkar’s restaurant franchise designed for the malls. Yauatcha has had mixed luck, Starbucks has returned to normal life after those early headlinegrabbing queues, and Indigo Deli, having seen a great opening, ran into a kerfuffle over table reservations, but none seems to be struggling to survive.
Come August 25, and they’ll be joined by Pizza Express, the international chain of Italian restaurants born in the UK, famous for its invention, dough balls served with garlic butter dip, reaching Delhi via Mumbai. A floor above, Mistral, the restaurant run by PVR Cinemas, has turned around its menu under the supervision of Mayank Tiwari, who has worked with both the Olive and the Smoke House franchises. There’s also talk of Jamie’s Kitchen opening – it’ll be the country’s first Jamie Oliver restaurant – some time later this year on the other side of Indigo Deli and Pizza Express. The mall, it seems, has finally come of age.
People in the food business love to joke that no one ever pays to go out and have a healthy meal. An alumna of Switzerland’s prestigious Les Roches Hotel Management School, Rivoli Sinha set out to prove this long-held theory wrong, although she had the more comfortable option of taking up a position in the `2,500-crore security company founded and owned by her father, R.K. Sinha, the BJP’s newly elected Rajya Sabha MP from Bihar.
Rivoli, who’s still in her 20s and has a name drawn from the Spanish word for ‘revolution’, came across Boost, an Australian chain of fresh fruit juice stores, on a visit Down Under coinciding with the takeover of a major local company by her father. She chose to bring the brand home, but realised that she would have to find a new name because Boost was already a milk supplement brand.
She zeroed in on Joost, opened her first outlet at a South Delhi fitness centre, and broke even within seven months. “Profitability is the only reason why I got into this business,” Rivoli said over a sampler from her juice menu at Joost’s Cyber Hub outlet.
She visits Maharashtra’s Ratnagiri district every February for the annual auction of hapoos (Alphonso) mangoes – this year, she picked up five quintals. She insists on only late-harvest Sweet Charlie strawberries from Mahabaleshwar because their natural sugar content rules out the need for additional sugar.
She sources her blueberries and raspberries from New Zealand, but she has found a supplier for blueberries in Himachal Pradesh. And she gets her wheatgrass from a grower in Sonepat who uses the hydroponic growing system to stop bugs from thriving on the grass. This attention to detail is getting her the footfalls – Joost’s 8ftx7ft outlet at the Medanta Medicity serves 400-500 people a day. That must be keeping the cash registers ringing.

As deadline nears, number of applicants for food safety licence goes down in Coimbatore

                                                                                               Instead of a spurt of applications being filed now with deadline just round the corner, the number of food businesses knocking on the doors of the Food Safety Wing here has actually declined in the past three months.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had mandated all food business operators to obtain licences/registrations before August 4.
Instead of a spurt of applications being filed now with deadline just round the corner, the number of food businesses knocking on the doors of the Food Safety Wing here has actually declined in the past three months.
A senior food safety official told The Hindu that just around 18 per cent of the total 26,691 food businesses, including ration shops and Government school hostels, in Coimbatore district had valid licences/registrations now.
The number of licences issued in June was 69 while the average figure used to hover between 200 and 300 till a few months ago. This was mainly due to the repeated deadline extensions.
When the Food Safety Act was notified and implemented from August 5, 2011, businesses were given an initial deadline of a year to register. It was extended from August 4, 2012, to February 4, 2013, and to February 4 this year and again to August 4. Licence was mandatory for all food business concerns with an annual turnover of above Rs. 12 lakh and those below this threshold have to obtain registration, both of which were valid for a year.
Further, the official said that even those who had obtained licences were failing to renew them. While 8,607 had registered last year, only 2,498 have renewed it. Similarly, 3,714 licences were issued last year of which 2,327 were not renewed. A total of 7,496 firms had failed to renew their licences/registration. In the absence of any instructions from FSSAI, the officials were also reluctant to launch a campaign asking food businesses to seek or renew licences.
Only the multinational companies involved in food businesses and their distributors along with restaurants were now keen on obtaining or renewing licences. However, those firms who were most in need of licences, such as the roadside food shops and small canteens, besides small groceries, are extremely reluctant, the official added.

FSSAI chief tight-lipped about extension to current licencing deadline

Thursday, July, 31, 2014 08:00 IST
Ashwani Maindola, New Delhi

                                                     On the sidelines of an event held in New Delhi recently, K Chandramouli, chairman, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) neither confirmed nor denied that there would be an extension to the current deadline for licencing and registration (August 4, 2014) of food business operators (FBO) across the country.

“No letters were issued to the states in this regard,” he added, and stated that the apex food regulator was awaiting the full interpretation of the Bombay High Court order. “When we obtain that, we will decide the future course action regarding advisories and regulations.”

உணவு பாதுகாப்பு அதிகாரி ஆய்வு


மாவட்ட உணவு பாதுகாப்பு நியமன அலுவலர் தலைமையில், ஜவ்வரிசி ஆலைகள், ஆய்வு மேற்கொள்ளப்பட்டது. நாமக்கல் மாவட்டத்தில், ராசிபுரம், சேந்தமங்கலம், நாமகிரிப்பேட்டை பகுதியில் உள்ள ஜவ்வரிசி ஆலைகளில், மக்காச்சோளம் கலப்படம் செய்யப்படுவதாக, மாவட்ட கலெக்டர் தட்சிணாமூர்த்திக்கு புகார் சென்றது. அதையடுத்து, மாவட்ட உணவு பாதுகாப்பு நியமன அலுவலர் தமிழ்ச்செல்வன் தலைமையிலான குழுவினர், சம்பந்தப்பட்ட ஜவ்வரிசி ஆலைகளை ஆய்வு செய்தனர். அதில், கலப்படத்திற்கு பயன்படுத்தக் கூடிய பிரஷர் மோட்டார் மற்றும் அதற்கான “பெட்’ ஆகியவற்றை அப்புறப்படுத்த உத்தரவிடப்பட்டது. மொத்தமாக ஆய்வு செய்யப்பட்ட, 20 ஆலையில், 14 ஆலைகள் இயங்கவில்லை. இரண்டு ஆலைகள் பூட்டப்பட்டு இருந்ததால், நான்கு ஆலைகளில் இருந்து மட்டும், உணவு மாதிரி எடுக்கப்பட்டு, பகுப்பாய்வுக்கு அனுப்பப்பட்டது.

சிதம்பரத்தில் காலாவதியான பிஸ்கெட் பாக்கெட்டுகள் பறிமுதல்

சிதம்பரம், ஜூலை 31:
                                                                  சிதம்பரம் எம்கேதோட்டம் அம்மன் கோயில் தெரு பகுதியை சேர்ந்தவர் ஜெயபாலன் மகன் ஆனந்தபாலன் (30). இவர் சிதம்பரம் கண்ணங்குடி புறவழிச்சாலை அருகே உள்ள பங்க் கடை ஒன்றில் பிஸ்கெட் பாக்கெட் வாங்கி சாப்பிட்டுள்ளார்.
சிறிது நேரத்தில் அவருக்கு உடல் நலக்குறைவு ஏற்பட்டுள்ளது. சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் அந்த பிஸ்கட் பாக்கெட் கவரை அவர் பார்த்த போது 2013ம் ஆண்டோடு காலாவதியானது தெரியவந்தது. உடனடியாக அவர் சிதம்பரம் அரசு மருத்துவமனையில் சிகிச்சை பெற்றார்.
கடலூர் மாவட்ட உணவு பாதுகாப்பு அதிகாரி ராஜா உத்தரவின் பேரில் குமராட்சி ஒன்றிய உணவு பாதுகாப்பு அலுவலர் மாரிமுத்து, சிதம்பரம் நகராட்சி உணவு பாதுகாப்பு அலுவலர் பத்மநாபன் ஆகியோர் நேற்று மதியம் சிதம்பரம் புறவழிச்சாலையில் உள்ள சம்மந்தப்பட்ட கடையில் சோதனை நடத்தினர். அப்போது கடையில் காலாவதியான பிஸ்கெட் பாக்கெட்டுகள் இருந்துள்ளன. உணவு பாதுகாப்பு அலுவலர்கள் அதனை பறிமுதல் செய்து அதனை ஆய்வுக்காக எடுத்து சென்றனர். மேலும் அக்கடையில் தயாரிப்பு தேதி இல்லாத சிப்ஸ் பாக்கெட்டுக�யும் பறிமுதல் செய்தனர். சிதம்பரம் நகரம் முழுவதிலும் உள்ள கடைகளில் காலாவதியான பிஸ்கட் பாக்கெட்டுகள், டீத்தூள் பாக்கெட்டுகள் உள்ளிட்ட பொருட்கள் விற்கப்படுகிறதா என சோதனை செய்ய வேண்டும் என சமூக ஆர்வலர்கள் கோரிக்கை விடுத்துள்ளனர்.

FBOs Must Promote Food Safety Regulations on Personal Hygiene

workers at Poultry Food Processing

A food business operator has to take certain precautions when employing personnel for his food business operations as food has to be safe and contaminant free for the health and safety of consumers. Also, not following the hygiene standards set by FSSAI could result in the loss of license. Once personnel have been employed an FBO has to ensure that they are strictly following personal hygiene as per guidelines. At no time should the hygienic standards be lowered and personnel must not be allowed to adopt a careless attitude on personal hygiene or in handling food.

Essential Hygiene Measures for FBOs

FBOs must follow these essential measures required to ensure food safety and to protect food from environmental exposure.

• Recruit only those staff that have under gone a medical examination and cleared parameters.
• Have the staff vaccinated for Typhoid every 3 years.
• Undertake health checks of employees every six months and maintain health records
• Instruct and educate employees not to handle food if they are infected with contagious diseases like Jaundice, diarrhoea, vomiting, fever, sore throat, eye, nose or ear discharge, skin problems (boils, cuts, itching etc.).
• Motivate and supervise them to maintain personal hygiene if they either cook, serve or sell food.
• Promote in-house food safety training for employees on an on-going basis. OR arrange for them to participate in food safety training programme run by recognised organisations.
• Maintain relevant records of training programmes of employees
• Ensure food handlers wear clean and appropriate clothing.
• Make certain that there are enough caps and gloves so that food handlers can cover their hair and wear gloves when handling food.
• Encourage them to change their street shoes once they enter the cooking premises to avoid contamination.
• Forbid them from keeping personal belongings near food or on food contact surfaces
• Make available hand washing facilities on the premises like continuous supply of water soap, tissue/ roll paper, paper towels, hand dryer or hand sanitiser.
• Strictly discourage wearing of jewellery, threads or cosmetics on their hands

Hand Washing Most Important

Hand washing is one of the most relevant and critical criteria for all food handlers to follow. Hands must always be washed with soap and under running water before handling any food. Personnel must be thorough in washing their hands after

• Using toilets
• Handling garbage
• Touching animals
• Touching raw food of animal origin
• Touching toxic substances like cleaners, pesticides, disinfectants etc.

Important Practices

Certain practices are very important while handling food to ensure food safety and so food handlers must not be permitted to
• Chew or smoke tobacco
• Chew betel nut or gums
• Touch mouth, tongue, nose, eyes or other body parts
• Spit, sneeze, cough etc. near food
• Touch ready-to-eat food with bare hands
• Handle food and money at same time

FSSAI may come up with a regulation to deal with Product Approval – FSH

Health Supplement

On regulatory matters of the food products such as Product Approval (PA), the apex body on food‘FSSAI’ will try avoiding issuing the advisories and would handle these matters with Regulations. This move has come in the wake of the orders given by the Mumbai High Court to FSSAI on product Approval process.

To meet this end, FSSAI has decided to set up a committee that would draft out regulations for future food product approval. The committee will be headed by a scientist and in order to have equal and inclusive representation, it would constitute two members each from the industry, consumers, state governments and scientists, one of whom would be from the medical field and the other with a food technology background.

One of the key areas the committee would be working on is to make regulations flexible so new ideas can be accommodated. The standards list would also be expanded and would be harmonized with that of the Codex Alimentarius Commission standards. The list of standardized products is also expected to be increased to 11000 products from the existing list of Approx. 370 plus standardized products.

CEO of FSSAI, D K Samantaray has stated that setting standards is not easy as foods products have different testing parameters and to bring a non-standardised product into the food chain is difficult and long. Food products have additives, flavours and colours which have to be within the safe limit as salt and sugar can also pose health issues.

Section 22 of FSS Act states – No person shall manufacture, distribute, sell or import any novel food, genetically modified articles of food, irradiated food, organic foods, foods for special dietary uses, Neutraceuticals, health supplements, proprietary foods and such other articles of food without taking product approval from the central government.

As per FSS Act, Rules & Regulations, if the food product is manufactured by using theingredients and additives for which there are no guidelines issued under FSS Act/Rules & Regulations, then such food products must be verified and approved by FSSAI, only then shall be allowed to be put in the market for consumption.

FSSAI’s advisory of May 11, 2013 had defined categories that required food product approval. As per the advisory food products that are listed in category 1(a) would be given approval immediately as they are in compliance with Codex Alimentarius Commission, the United States Food and Drug Administration (USFDA), the European Union (EU), Food Standards Australia New Zealand (FSANZ) and so those seeking approval for these ‘1a’ products must apply with documentation to FSSAI.

Category 1(b) foods are not compliant with the Codex Alimentarius or with USFDA but these products have documentary evidence of being safe and so they have been standardised for the Indian consumer. In case any new manufacturer wishes to manufacture any product already being manufactured under category 1(a) and 1(b) then he has to file an application with FSSAI to obtain clearance to manufacture the same.

However, foods listed in 1(c) are those that FSSAI has not cleared as being safe and the product approval shall be granted or denied on the basis of risk assessment.