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Consumer Awareness and Brand Responsibility: A Path to Food Safety in India

Here's all you need to know about food safety in India and how can consumers like you be protected against the odds. Check out all you can do and what to look out for in the food packages and while eating out.

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Indian Council of Medical Research has come up with various recommendations in the recent past; all dedicated to raising consumer awareness focusing on 'what' and 'how' to consume food items - a trail that started post the crackdown on the Indian-based spices brand. Recently, the body released a new set of guidelines where it recommended people choose whole spices over powdered versions as they are likely to be adulterated and harmful to health.

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Image Courtesy: Reddit 

Food safety came into extreme limelight recently when Hong Kong and Singapore banned two of the largest spice makers, MDH and Everest Spices, over "quality concerns." Reportedly, the health authorities of both countries found ethylene oxide in these spices above acceptable limits, which is expected to cause cancer with prolonged use. Consequently, the US and Nepal also restricted the import of products from these two Indian brands. While MDH claimed that their spices were safe to use, India's top food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), decided to conduct a sampling of MDH and Everest spices.

The series of discussions over food and safety escalated even more with a few horrific incidents leading to deaths. In March, a 10-year-old girl in Patiala, Punjab, died after eating her birthday cake. As it turned out, food poisoning was suspected and later, Zomato suspended the restaurant from the portal. In another incident, in Mumbai, a 19-year-old named Prathamesh Bhokse died after consuming chicken shawarma from a food stall in Trombay. 

According to various sources, it is claimed that there are certain food items that should be avoided for various reasons such as:

  • Cakes and pastries because they do not come with an expiry date.
  • Cream rolls because they are thick cream filling and because of their flaky crust, they have a salty aftertaste. It leads to less clarity over whether the food is expired even after it becomes stale.
  • The hygiene levels of the food processor also make it difficult to state if the juices are healthy or not.
  • Sandwiches are called skeptical as they might lead to stomach infections and digestion problems because of the absence of any expiry dates for it.
  • Open food items on the stalls and the streets are most likely to contain infections, hence, should be avoided.
  • Seasonal items must be consumed in the particular season like apples in autumn and winter months which are considered ideal for growing apples whereas spring and summer are considered perfect for beetroot. The items are available out of their season because the fruits and vegetables are preserved with pesticides, waxes, and preservatives to keep them afresh out of the season.
  • Cabbage and Brussels Sprouts should be avoided in summer for the same reason. It is considered better to avoid raw vegetables in winter.

How should consumers know what is safe to consume?

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In our day-to-day busy lives, we often forget to check the safety standards of the food we consume. However, with rising concerns, it has become important to ensure that the food you consume is safe. The Food Safety & Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is the organisation in India responsible for monitoring, controlling, and establishing safety regulations for the entire Indian food sector. Created by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare under the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA), the body works on science-based regulations for the management of food items, including their manufacturing, preservation, sales, distribution, and trade.

Based on that here are a few ways to ascertain food safety for Indian consumers:

  • As per the 2006 FSSA, all food trucks, cafes or restaurants, and chain eateries with annual revenue over 12 Lakhs are required to get the FSSAI license. One must check the license before trusting the brand with safety and quality.
  • Having a Food Safety Management System in place is important for these food chains for which they require certifications. Since these are provided by ISO, FSSC, and HACCP. So, one can check these.
  • The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India also facilitates checking quality of water with License No./BIS No. on the pack of bottles. So, it becomes important to check that.
  • For all packaged food and ones taken from the shelf or store which is packed or containerised, check for the FSSAI marking.
  • For all agriculture-based products, make sure to check for AGMARK which ensures standards set out by the central government.
  • For all packaged drinking and mineral water and certain processed foods such as infant food, milk, and skimmed milk powder, must check the ASI mark on them.
  • AGMARK must be checked for products such as vegetable oil, pulses, cereals, spices, honey, fruits, and vegetables.
  • Must look for the 'Fortified logo' when attempting to buy fortified wheat flour, rice, milk, oil, and salt. Fortified food means that nutrients such as vitamins and minerals are added to the food.
  • If you are looking to only buy organic food, check out the logo of 'Jaivik Bharat' on the packages as the body provides the certification of organic food in India. 
  • One must know that the containers made of plastic materials should also conform to the following Indian Standards Specification. You can  check for these:

    IS 10146 (Specification for Polyethylene in contact with foodstuffs);

    IS 10142 (Specification for Styrene Polymers in contact with foodstuffs);

    IS 10151 (Specification for Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), in contact with foodstuffs);

    IS 10910 (Specification for Polypropylene in contact with foodstuffs);

    IS 11434 (Specification for Ionomer Resins in contact with foodstuffs);

    IS 11704 Specification for Ethylene Acrylic Acid (EAA) copolymer.

    IS 12252 – Specification for Poly alkylene terephthalates (PET).

    IS 12247 – Specification for Nylon 6 Polymer;

    IS 13601 – Ethylene Vinyl Acetate (EVA);

    IS 13576 – Ethylene Metha Acrylic Acid (EMAA);
  • For canned meat products, one must check that the cans should be lacquered internally. They must also be hermetically sealed. 

What can brands do to ensure food safety?

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Recently, various brands have been under the radar of investigative agencies. Along with Rameshwaram Cafe where the Urad Dal (100 Kg) stock, Nandini Curd (10kg), and milk (8L) were found expired in a police raid, there have been food brands and restaurants that are on the verge of losing their reputation owing to such incidents. However, there are various ways that these brands can avoid such situations and maintain their name among customers.

  • The food safety inspectors check the FSSAI license’s renewal and validity as it is a mandate to register with the FSSAI for any food business operator.
  • The brands must go for hygiene inspection to ensure that the operations comply with the hygiene standards to reduce the risk of contamination and foodborne illnesses.
  • To identify potential problems in the safe handling, storage, and preparation of food products, the brands must complete the Food Safety Inspection.
  • Facility inspection is important to check the cleanliness and ensure a sanitary environment amidst the food production.
  • The brands must also get the Equipment inspection done to prevent contamination.
  • Brands need to adhere to local regulations and standards to maintain legal compliance and also gain the trust of the consumers making the Regulatory Compliance Inspection.
  • It is important for the brands to get the Supplier inspection that verifies the quality and safety of ingredients that are sourced from external vendors, 
  • Since Allergen Control Inspection guarantees proper identification, handling, and prevention of allergen cross-contamination, it is important for the brands to get it.

How and where can consumers report grievances?

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Image Courtesy: Hindustan Times 

To protect the consumers from problems and to mitigate the issues that arise out of negligence from the brands, the government has come up with various ways of redress. A few ways to make your voice heard include:

  • The consumers can visit the Jago Grahak Jago portal, a consumer awareness programme, to understand their rights and can also complain on the platform.
  • Consumers can also call on the national helpline number 1800114000 or 1915 to record their complaints.
  • The FSSAI has also given a helpline toll-free number 1800112100 that works 24x7.
  • The FSSAI also ensures that compensation is provided to the consumers in case of injury or death of the consumer.
  • People can also Food Safety Officer / Designated Officer /DC of your area or Food Safety Commissioner of the State.
  • To particularly mention about restaurants, one can visit the Food Licensing website, a part of FSSAI, to lodge a complaints.

Apart from that, citizens are coming up on their levels to spread awareness. 'Label Padhega India', a citizen's initiative by the content creator Revant Himatsingka, popularly known as FoodPharmer, aims to spread awareness about the importance of reading labels. 

We are also committed to meditating and raising voices against unethical practices prevailing in the industry and supporting consumers. If you have such concerns, knowledge to spread, share your story with us as we would aim to amplify the voice.

 

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