The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has become increasingly active, addressing industry stakeholders such as food product companies and the packaging industry at various forums in the past couple of years. In the main, the FSSAI executives have been frank and take every opportunity to invite industry inputs in the process of creating a comprehensive set of regulations that cover all safety and quality aspects of food packaging.
On 28 October 2017, at the International Summit for the Packaging Industry held in New Delhi concurrently with the pacprocess exhibition, Sunil Bakshi, advisor (Regulations/Codex), FSSAI admitted that though the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2011 is prevalent, the regulations in regard to the packaging of food products are rather sketchy. These regulations pertain mostly to metal containers and the use of recycled materials and little or nothing of relevance about contemporary food contact materials.
Bakshi said that the current focus of the FSSAI is to develop comprehensive regulations and guidelines “that cover all safety and quality aspects of food packaging.” He outlined a three-pronged approach to accomplish this by firstly developing comprehensive regulations on food contact; strengthening the national infrastructure for packaging testing; and, monitoring the quality of packaging materials and conducting safety evaluations. He indicated that although there are 200 recognized government laboratories across the country at present, these are not enough and the government has a budget for the enhancement and expansion of the testing infrastructure and facilities.
Saying that the proposed comprehensive packaging regulations would have several new features and shift from being food products specific to specific packaging materials and their migration properties, Bakshi said, “We have to move a lot and this could be with the participation of all the stakeholders.”
‘One nation, one food safety law’
In an article published by The Mint on 2 November 2017, the chief executive officer of FSSAI, Pawan Kumar Agarwal, said that the organization is working on a ‘one nation, one food safety law’ so that all state-level food authorities follow a standard practice for the implementation, compliance and surveillance of food safety regulations. Standard practices for surveillance, sampling and inspection go hand in hand with increased transparency and these will ensure smoother operation for food companies.
Under the ‘one food safety law’ for the country regime, state-level food officers will have to follow a 10-point code of ethics laid down by FSSAI. Apart from state-level differences in methodology and practice, FSSAI also wants to abolish multiple agencies such as those for food imports.
Agarwal said that inspection and sampling activity and results will be made available using cloud-based technology solutions to increase transparency. Under the yet to be introduced guidelines, the draft norms suggest that all testing laboratories will have to come under a centralized and connected lab management system called the Indian Food Laboratory Network and also known as InFoLNet.
Compulsory for all FSSAI notified laboratories, 154 laboratories are already listed on InFoLNet. FSSAI owns and operates two labs and has approved 82 in various states. It has allocated Rs. 482 crore for strengthening the food testing infrastructure and for upgradation and modernization of the existing laboratories. Going forward, plans include the setting up of 62 mobile testing labs as well.