Food safety remains a mere slogan as the field staff of the Food Control Organization is ill-equipped to carry out duties mandated under FSSAI and is ‘forced’ to compromise quality checks of food business operators. There are no facilities to carry out sampling of foods available in markets, both rural and urban.
While Kashmir’s complacency towards food safety laws has been elucidated through the rickety infrastructure at the Food Safety Lab in Srinagar, field situation is no better. The Food Safety Officers working in field are not provided requisite funds for lifting samples, nor is the material required to lift samples provided by the organization.
A number of FSOs told Greater Kashmir that they have to spend from their own pockets when it
came to lifting samples. “For each product that needs to be tested, we have to lift four samples. The product costs may range from Rs 5 to Rs 200. We are required to lift a certain number of samples usually around 15 per month. And for all this, the money goes from our pockets,” an FSO said. The FSOs added that if they have to lift a kilogram packet of chilli powder for testing, which costs Rs 150 and four of which need to be lifted as per FSSA, the FSO will incur an expenditure of Rs 600.
The FSOs further alleged that the amount spent on sampling takes a long time to get reimbursed and quite often are they told that the funds for sampling have lapsed and therefore the payments cannot be made.
Moreover, there are no facilities required for sampling. “We require sterile jars- preferably glass, envelops, thread, tapes, sealing wax, computers and stationary for documentation. But we have nothing,” an FSO said.
The recent stress on food safety drives has cost the FSOs dearly as they are made to sample more food items each day, each of which gets heavier on their pockets. Controller Food and Drugs J&K, Lotika Khajuria agreed that sampling money was ‘an issue’. She blamed it on the lack of funds for the organization.
“In the past there have been lapses. We were not being provided the funds that we had projected. But hopefully, this is going to change,” Khajuria said. She further said that the fresh fund projections had ample amount for funding on sampling and all the liabilities of FSOs will be cleared.
Officials who have worked in FCO for many years believe that much of the problems in the department could be attributed to the fact that Food Safety had not been accorded the importance it deserved by the Planning Department of the government. “Very often, whatever the department projected would be trimmed. As if we had asked something that was superfluous and ornamental,” he said.