In an exercise to revamp the food testing laboratory and sampling infrastructure in the country in tune with the new surveillance-based food safety mechanism, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has earmarked Rs 480 crore for upgrading government-owned food testing labs. With this, the apex food regulator is aiming at having at least one state-of-the-art laboratory in every state. Large states may even have two labs. In the emerging scenario, the Ghaziabad lab may run under PPP model.
In this regard, speaking to FnB News, Pawan Kumar Agarwal, CEO, FSSAI, stated that the apex food regulator has been working towards ensuring standard food labs across the country, which was required immediately and for the purpose, partnership with private labs was also being considered. Agarwal added that the apex food regulator would advise the state governments on the operations and maintenance of the labs.
He explained, “We would help establishing one lab in each state and two in big states which will be duly accredited. We will provide funds for the machines and equipments, microbiological test and other operations of the labs.”
Meanwhile, as part of the earlier infrastructure, there are two Central labs in Kolkata and Ghaziabad owned by FSSAI, while state governments own some 82 labs. That apart, there are 98 private labs, which are accredited by NABL, but the state government labs are largely unrecognised. Further, there are about 12 referral labs.
Interestingly, while the private lab infrastructure is at par with Central and state government labs, there has been confusion amongst state-level FDA officials about legality of the tests to be carried out in private labs. Clearing the air, Agarwal observed, “The key staff will be provided by the government in private labs who will carry out the food analysis. At least eight government functionaries will be appointed in each lab for the purpose of testing and analysing.”
Apart from private labs, emphasis is being laid on referral labs. Recently the regulator had issued a list of referral labs for the purpose of food analysis and the zones for the said purpose. It also revised the analysis and testing charges that start at Rs 700.
While the lab infrastructure is being revamped, FSSAI is also working on reduction of sampling done by the enforcement machinery as the surveillance-based mechanism calls for sampling based on concrete information of some wrongdoing. This move is expected to bring a shift in the current trend of 100% sampling wherein only 2 out of 10 samples fail a test but labs remain occupied in unnecessary analysis.
Meanwhile, taking a cue from the apex food regulator’s initiative of surveillance-based mechanism, Madhya Pradesh State Food and Drug Department has issued a directive for a pre-nod from the local district health officer for collection of food samples.
Joint comptroller MPSFDA Pramod Shukla stated, “It has been decided that a total of 48 samples will be taken in a year as legal samples. In a month total 12 samples will be taken wherein four will go for analysis while remaining eight will be part of the surveillance process. This would save our energy and we will be in a position to use our resources including labs in a better way.” He added that the state government had chalked out a Rs 3.92 crore plan for upgrading state-owned food labs.
Agarwal found this to be a welcome step as long as it was in accordance with the spirit of the instruction of the FSSAI.