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Rewind 2018: 5 top food safety outbreaks in India

Need for strengthening Food safety controls to ensure wholesome food 

Rewind 2018 - Food safety outbreaks in India 

Are we immune to unsafe food? – No, there is only no data to connect this 

“We Indians are immune to food borne illnesses”; this is the common perception among the people within and outside the country. To bolster this myth, we rarely get to know the news on food safety outbreaks either on the incumbent department for food or on media channels. However, the question still remains are we eating safe food? Well FSSAI says it is “largely” safe and “no concern of any kind”. Sidelining the sugar coated words, it is difficult to connect the illnesses to food merely due to lack of data. As per the last statement issued by National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) in December 2017 (body that documents disease surveillance in India), in the last 10 years, food poisoning outbreaks has seen a jump of more than 85% from 50 episodes in 2008 to 395 in 2016 and these episodes are prevalent in places of gathering like weddings, hostels, canteens and festivals. It was also highlighted that milk and milk products are particularly responsible for causing diarrhoea and vomiting.  

Addressing these concerns, relentless efforts were undertaken by FSSAI leadership in establishing a communication in the form of a surveillance programs with NCDC on food borne illnesses. However, with lack of sufficient manpower, these programs are moving at a snail’s pace. In this context, while we laud insuperable achievements of Food Authority in the last one year, we would like to touch upon the aspects where instances of food safety has possibly put public at stake (attempt to sensitizing) the and also the action taken by the food regulator during such scenarios

S No
Food safety Concern
Action taken by FSSAI
Mid-day meals
Only in 2018 there are various instances of food poisoning reported in the Mid day meals offered to students in Government schools. A cumulative of 100 students hospitalized for food safety instances in Koderma and Delhi
Although, there is no direct action taken by FSSAI, It has pledged to ensure wholesome and nutritious food to students by mandating fortification of nutrients in the food served to future force of India
Mid-day meals were introduced as an incentive to under privileged children to subscribe to schooling. Due to various factors, the palatability of food is diminishing in both quality and safety for students. Hence, while pushing the agenda of fortification, the regulator should also consider strengthening the food safety programs in the school kitchens

In a first-of-its-kind study in India, the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) tested 65 food products available in the market for genetically modified (GM) ingredients. In the survey, CSE found GM genes in 32% of the products; almost 80% of them imported

The leadership of FSSAI in a press note averted that the laboratories used in the CSE study were not recognized by FSSAI and also cited regulatory lacuna to either corroborate the CSE finding or recall the products which are “not legal” in the Indian markets
Post Maggi recall, the media has demonized food safety authority and hence the current leadership is visibly sensitive to media and also constructive feedback. Consequently,  going by the approach FSSAI has adapted now, it is clear that they wanted to strike a balance between its relationship with key stakeholders i.e. consumer bodies and Industry

Adulteration in Milk

As per a statement issued by department of Animal welfare board, around 68.7 per cent of milk and milk products sold in the country is not as per the standards laid down by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) and the most common adulterants are detergent, caustic soda, glucose, white paint and refined oil
Agreeing that milk quality issues are prevailing, FSSAI has assured the countrymen that milk is “largely” safe. Countering the  survey of the Animal  welfare board as redundant, it has conducted a fresh study and has issued an interim report demonstrating only quality issues are affecting the milk supply chain and also suggested large scale awareness campaigns
News on methods of adulteration in Milk crops up frequently on social media. While ignoring the authenticity of such news, there is always a scope to dilution due to supply and demand, considering milk as an essential commodity. The unregulated areas like animal feed, pollution, usage of plastic and other factors contribute to the quality issues. Hence a holistic understanding is required to curb this menace
Contamination in the imported pulses  to India

Tests conducted by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) on thousands of samples of Lentils and Moong Dal grown by farmers in Canada and Australia found an average 282 parts per billion (PPB) and 1,000 parts per billion of glyphosate respectively, which is extremely high on any standards

Here too, the leadership has cited the ambiguity to regulate the threshold residue levels for pulses and has issued a guideline for testing future consignments leaving the existing ones as “safe for consumption (an attempt to douse the fire of recall)
Food safety controls are very vital and show the maturity of the regulator in terms of assurance and control. Taking the example here, the Canadian FDA has proactively conducted a Surveillance on the home grown crops and issued a public notice demonstrating its commitment in providing safe food to its citizens
Unsafe Betel nut import racket caught by DRI

DRI conducts investigation on evading customs duty. However, a scam has surfaced smuggling unsafe Betel Nuts from SAARC countries to India shores. Recently, CBI is probing the role of responsible departments that allowed this crime to perpetuate (an act of connivance)

With reports surfacing in the media, FSSAI has immediately issued a notice on 100% sampling of Betel nuts and was silent on the earlier imported shipments which could be in the Indian markets
Imports is a grave concern for Indian regulator because of lean and weak controls in the ports, due to following reasons
      1. Lack of direct monitoring in all ports, few ports customs act as food safety officers (lack expertise)
   2.    Inadequate and demoralized (contractual employees and hardly rewarded) staff. The resentment among   is affecting the productivity of FSSAI
        3.       Representations from stakeholders on quick clearance times

Interestingly, all the above issues were bought to the public notice by departments acting as a supplementary role and not by Indian FDA. In these instances, the role of food regulator in India is limited to providing a press statement as a knee-jerk reaction to the issue. In doing so, it has become evident that there is a lot to strengthen the food safety framework in India and we are positive that FSSAI would effectively bring in changes that would leave positive impact on everyone of us.

We wish our clients, readers and collaborators a very happy and affluent new year 2019

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(All content provided on this blog is for informational purposes only. The owner of this blog makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information on this site or found by following any link on this site)

Issue 32

References to the above outbreaks in the media

1. Mid day meal - News 1, News 2
2. GM Food  - News 1
3. Milk Adulteration - News 1, News 2
4. Imported Pulses - News 1, News 2
5. DRI raids on Betel nut - News 1, News 2


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