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Unsafe food: FSSAI urges crackdown

Food poisoning. Credit: 123rf
The FSSAI is working to sharply reduce the quantity of unsafe food in India to ensure consumers can consume a healthy and safe diet.

Sounding concerns about the prevalence of unsafe food in the country, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is seeking a sharp reduction. 

FSSAI chairman Pawan Kumar Aggarwal, speaking at a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) event, drew attention to “very low” public confidence in Indian foodstuffs. Aggarwal drew attention to a survey of one lakh samples of food, which found 3.7 percent of the foodstuffs to be unsafe. He called on the industry to reduce this percentage to one percent or less in the next four years. In addition to the 3.7 percent of samples which were unsafe, fifteen percent were non-standard and nine percent was improperly branded. 

Acknowledging food safety to be a concern, Aggarwal nonetheless expressed concern that effecting reductions in the quantities of non-standard, improperly branded and unsafe food was achievable with proper surveillance, enforcement and review of food standards, and monitoring of pollutants such as antibiotics, heavy metals, and pesticides in the country’s produce. He also highlighted the disparity between the survey’s findings and media and public perception. 

“It [the lack of confidence] is partially due to perception but there is some amount of reality,” he explained. “Obviously we have to communicate well with the citizen so that gap between reality and perception is reduced. We need to take concrete actions to address this issue.” Of the targets to reduce unsafe foodstuffs, Aggarwal said “the level of 3.7 percent is low when compared to media reports of sixty to seventy percent. In [the] next four years, can we bring unsafe food level to less than one percent or negligible level…non-standard food to five percent and mis-branded food to two percent?”

There is indeed a clear need to reduce the quantity of unsafe food in India. It was reported last year that, of the 1,649 infectious disease outbreaks reported until December 3rd, 2017, food poisoning was responsible for 242, the second highest number behind acute diarrhoeal disease. Food poisoning is on the rise too, the number of instances of food poisoning outbreaks increasing from just fifty in 2007 to 242 a decade later – almost a fivefold increase. Such instances have repeatedly proven to be lethal. 

Earlier this year, it was reported that the FSSAI would be taking major steps towards ensuring food safety in India through the appointment of inspectors. “The FSSAI has trained about 1.7 lakh food safety supervisors for capacity building under the Food Safety Training and Certification initiative. They will ask people and food vendors to comply with the food safety norms, including the hygiene aspect,” commented Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. “We not only have to provide [the] right food, but also ensure that there is strict implementation of laws and the compliance of standards to assure that citizens have safe and wholesome food.” The FSSAI’s encouragement of the removal of unsafe food from the market is another encouraging step. 

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