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Challenges in implementation of FSSAI Regulations

A panel discussion organised by Clean India Journal during the 10th edition of Clean India Pulire 2013 focussed on the implementation of FSSAI rules and the challenges thereof. More than 20 representatives from restaurants, fast food joints and bakeries participated in the discussion hosted by eminent panelists Xerxes Irani, Quality Assurance Manager-Afoozo Pvt Ltd; PC Anil Kumar, Head Food Safety-Sealed Air India and Ashwin Bhadri, FSSAI & Compliance Expert-Branding & New Initiatives, Equinox Labs.

Ashwin Bhadri: Cleanliness & hygiene is very important in the food industry and the governmental department which plays a crucial role in keeping a check, is Food Safety Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) by specifying the latest safety food norms in the country. All the safety norms prescribed over the years had turned archaic and were not useful. The FSSAI Act came into existence in 2006 and a new body came into action in 2011. One of the biggest changes in this act has been the penalty structure – 100 to 200 times heavier than Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, which so far was the biggest Act in the country.

To quote an incident that happened about three years ago: A person in Thane, Mumbai, when caught in camera urinating into a bucket of Pani puri, had to spend one night in jail and pay a fine of 1200. But, if this incident had happened today, he would be spending at least six- eight years in jail and 5-6 lakhs of fine.

So this is the biggest change, the food safety law has brought in. Secondly, it is expected that every single person associated with the food chain register with FSSAI. Anyone who manufactures, stores, processes, sells or serves food in any form comes under FSSAI. The Authority has opened a door of many business opportunities as well.

Anil Kumar: Being an Auditor, I do visit many industries – food and beverage, hospitals kitchens, railways and so on. Ideally, when we look at systems we expect that the systems must be always maintained whether the audit is done announced or unannounced. The often mentioned term in FSSAI rules is contamination. The second word you find is documentation. Record keeping is one of the biggest area. The third part you can find is cleaning. So the contamination, cleaning and record keeping are the three areas highlighted in the regulation on which we need to focus. However, we find that most of the rules taken from the US or European standards are new for Indian industries. For example, thawing is a method where the operating temperature ranges from – 18OC to 5OC – usually the refrigeration process. But under the FSSAI rules and regulations, it is clearly mentioned that one can do the thawing under running water but the temperature must be below 15OC and if you take international standard it is about 21OC. So, some of the clauses and regulations are very stringent than the international norms. It may be good one way, but at the same time we need to put the systems in place and try to move on. It has been made mandatory that by February this year, all the bigger companies should be getting licenses and smaller companies, the registrations.

Xerxes Irani: Basically by introducing FSSAI, it is expected that everyone has to be more concerned about food safety, right from purchase till the food is consumed. After eating, nothing should go wrong with the person. Safety starts from placing the order with supplier, receiving, storing to servicing. This is a long process. I visit all my company sites and give training to the employees handling food. So when we start a service, we immediately apply for the FSSAI certification. Before FSSAI came into operation, we were already doing this in coordination with chemical manufacturers like Diversey and Scheveran and others to help us in maintenance.

The first step in food safety is personal hygiene — understanding the difference between soap and sanitizer. The basic thing, hand washing is not followed scientifically. After washing the hands, if a worker wipes the hands on his own uniforms what is the use?

Ashwin: The problem of contamination is universal across the food industry. The awareness has to come from the grass root level – Personal hygiene first, then the regulations. We train the owner or manager of a restaurant, the safety level does not go up; we train the facility head or the chief chef, the food safety levels don’t go up. My company monitors food safety levels every month and tracks companies. We literally did not see any kind of improvement. But, when we started training the food handlers, the improvement was visible. As most of them had difficulties with power point presentations, we had to prepare simple visuals based presentations in their mother tongues. It is important to understand what is microorganism, where do they come from, what are the small steps to be taken as food handlers to ensure that one doesn’t let pass the microorganism to the end consumer inhibiting the cross contamination. If the place is dirty and you put something on it, it gets cross contaminated at the grass root level.

We as a company face two kinds of people in the food business. One is someone, who is into the business for the last 10 to 15 years and does not want to listen to any food safety lessons. He has been doing it for years and he feels he knows everything. Another kind of person, who is recently getting into business is more willing to listen. By and large, people have started seeing the advantage of following the norms and the change is happening.

There’s one more shocking discovery during our research. We found 99% of the food poisoning does not get reported.

All of us eat in restaurants. But we do not know others at these eating places. When we fall ill after consuming food at one eatery, we do not report the incident. At the same time, if something happens in a marriage party or school, the food poisoning gets immediately reported. Food poisoning happens every day, everywhere but the thing is that it does not get reported. Slowly and steadily it is going to start coming up with social media. It has already started in the US. That culture is creeping here with linkedin, facebook etc. The US Safety keeps a record of all these data in its audits. In India unfortunately, it’s not the case. The food poisoning is not taken very seriously that is harming the country’s efforts to increase food safety. Now FSSAI and FDA are going to open helpline and publicize these issues with more details.

Part II of the discussion will be featured in the forthcoming issue.

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