Union Health Minister JP Nadda announced in the Lok Sabha that more than 250 samples of imported food consignments were rejected in 2015-16 up till 31st January 2016. To generate a quicker import process, the government has also taken the decision to introduce risk-based sampling of imported food consignments and the same has been communicated to the FSSAI.
In 2015-16 till January 31, the collected samples amounted to 58,920 and out of these 735 samples were rejected at the visual inspection stage, while 256 samples were rejected by notified laboratories on testing and analysis. In 2014-15 samples collected amounted to 66,065 of which 864 samples were rejected at the visual inspection stage while 537 were rejected by notified laboratories.
Under section 47(5) FSS Act 2006, FSSAI has set up a mandatory food import clearance process which has been operational since September 2010. Import applications are now accepted only through the online Food Import Clearance System and are processed on first come first served basis. After obtaining a license from the FSSAI the importer’s next step is to authorize a Customs Handling Agent (CHA) and inform FSSAI of the same. The CHA also files an application on the importer’s behalf for clearance of consignment with the Department of Customs. Examination orders are generated by Customs through the Bill of entry. Necessary documents and sample testing fees are submitted. Only after this can CHAs seek an appointment for sampling from the FSSAI-AO (Authorised Officer). Once an appointment has been granted the AO
- Visually inspects food products
- Verifies documents and labels
- Randomly picks samples from the consignment at the CFS or from the vessels.
These samples are sealed, cooled and sent to the approved Notified Laboratory or Referral Food Testing Laboratory for testing and analysis on the same day or next morning. Depending on the type of tests required as per FSS (laboratory and sampling analysis) regulations, 2011, the testing laboratory has to analyse the samples and furnish the report in 5 days. On the basis of the test report the AO gives NOC for clearance or Non Conformance to the CHA and customs the same or next day. India has 168 food testing laboratories, of which 14 are referral ones. There are also 82 national accreditation board for testing and calibration laboratories.
- Visual inspection is carried out for physical condition of the consignment and for insect or fungal infestation
- Shelf life of the product which should be more than the 60% of its original shelf life at the time of import clearance
- Compliance of the FSS (Packaging & Labelling) Regulations, 2011, and the product specific labelling requirements.
Imported foods which do not meet regulatory requirements are not permitted to enter the market and are returned to the customs for disposal. In 2014-15 consignments were rejected because of
- Presence of gelatine
- Damaged grain
- Presence of vegetable fat in chocolates,
- Unpermitted colours
- Valid remaining shelf life not more than 60%.
- Illegible labels or label declaration in foreign languages, wrong claim on labels
The government is however, keen to facilitate speedier trade across borders and so has decided to introduce risk based sampling of import consignments covered under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006. The steps taken to speed up clearance will include
- single window clearance system
- operationalization of pre-arrival document system at IGI Airport New Delhi, Kolkata (seaport and airport), Chennai (seaport and airport) and Mumbai airport
- where no FSSAI officials are posted customs officials have been authorized to draw samples from imported food consignments and send them for testing
Since 14th January, 2016 the FSSAI has operationalized the Food Safety and Standards (Food Import) Regulations, 2016. Therefore when importing food the FBO must ensure the imported food is in compliance with regulations including the standards for packaging and labelling regulations.