What is in your meal and where did the ingredients come from?
Were they properly, and safely handled at every stage, from farm to plate? While our society’s attitude to food safety, especially purchased edibles, has been lackadaisical, the Nagaland State Health and Family Welfare Department’s recent notifications on food safety violations in the state are an eye opener.
The several food safety violations pointed out by the Food Safety Cell of the state included selling of bottled water without BIS certificate; the misbranding of certain food articles; adulteration of powdered spices; artificially ripening fruits using Carbide gas; and using formalin to treat fish and crustaceans for sale.
In addition to the notifications, the health department has stated that it would conduct checks to ensure that food safety standards are maintained. And more specifically, field tests on fish and crustaceans, to check if they have been treated with formalin, are underway, as per the department.
With the hope that the department performs these checks properly and enforces food safety regulations stringently, it is important to realize that action is needed to understand and streamline the supply chain and ask stakeholders to promote food safety.
India has stringent food safety standards set in the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006 and the Food Safety and Standards Rules and Regulations, 2011. Yet, the quality of food remains a concern.
The reason lies in implementation of the laws and regulations. The food industry has the primary responsibility to prevent food safety problems. But considering the huge scale, large diversity, and complexity of the market, it is very difficult to ensure their compliance with the high safety standards.
Further, small enterprises might not be able to implement the wide array of required tests, which can be costly.
Like the food industry, the regulatory system itself is also complex, involving several different government agencies at national, provincial, and local levels, with overlapping duties but often without effective coordination.
Prevention of food problems is a shared responsibility of all producers, regulators, and consumers. Aside from imposing severe penalties on food outlets that do not follow safety rules and are responsible for health hazards, regulators can also provide support and training for the food industry to achieve acceptable safety standards.
Additionally, increased public awareness and more transparent reports of all food safety issues in, particularly tracking of food-borne diseases, could facilitate implementation of food safety measures.