Saturday, October 22, 2011


It is the festival time in India and traditional sweetmeats form an integral part of the celebrations. Unlike X'mas festivities when cakes and pastries with reasonably good shelf life are liberally consumed, Indian sweets do not stay long without getting spoiled and therefore high precaution is needed in making, storing and distribution in the market. Though there are guidelines mandated by the Safety Agencies to maintain good hygiene in the kitchens where they are prepared, very few manufacturers heed to such restrictions. One is amused to read the grand declaration by the Babu who goes by the designation of Food Safety Commissioner in Delhi that people must buy sweets only from shops exhibiting the FDA certificate as if it is a guarantee for the safety of these products. As per the latest rules all shops with an annual turn over of 12 lakh need a licence from the FDA of Delhi but there hundreds of small shops selling different sweets which are unregulated. Does it mean that they are unsafe? Does the "Commissioner" give guarantee that if the products in shops exhibiting the "Certificate" is bought, nothing untoward will happen to consumers? What infrastructure FDA has to regulate this unorganized industry effectively? What about those shops who are exempted from licensing and the safety of their products? Proclamation and Declarations are good but they must be followed with result oriented action!

"If you wait a whole year to indulge your sweet tooth around Diwali, we'd suggest you check if your vision is 20/20. Make sure that you can see the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) certificate on display at the stores from where you buy your sweets. According to the recently enforced Food Safety Act (FSA), any manufacturer, retailer, wholesaler or distributor of any perishable commodity needs to have a licence or has to be registered with the state wing of the FDA. And s/he will have to mandatorily display the FDA's certificate for all consumers. Warning against poor quality products, FDA commissioner Mahesh Zhagade said, "If the manufacturer, retailer or wholesaler has a business of more than Rs12 lakh per annum, he has to register himself with the state FDA. If the annual business is less than Rs12 lakh, then he has to register himself with us. Earlier, as per the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, urban local bodies had the power to issue licences. Now, as per the FSA, only the state FDA can issue them." The state FDA, he added, is already in touch with various stakeholders involved in preventing food adulteration and contamination. The products on the radar include mawa, sweets, chocolates, ghee, refined oil, aata and maida. "We have also prepared an end-to-end checklist, which will be circulated, to ensure that there are no loopholes in the system, right from the time of manufacture till it reaches the consumer," added Zhagade. Senior FDA officials indicated that those manufacturing commodities, especially sweets, in unhygienic conditions have been identified. The FDA has also stepped up vigilance on landing sites, such as railway stations, ST depots and market yards, where the raw material is delivered. "Even on district-levels, our officials will be checking vulnerable spots and sending us reports," said Zhagade. Officials, however, claimed that figuring out the purity of commodities like mawa can be difficult. "As per the standard, mawa needs to have 30% milk fats. However, it is difficult to just recognise pure mawa. It can be adulterated using sugar and even substances like starch. This is why the registration or licensing of mawa shops has been made mandatory," added Zhagade.

Some how an impression is being created that the new monolith agency going by the acronym "FSSAI, has the answers to every problem this country is facing as far as food safety is concerned. It is forgotten that those who are affected by food poisoning of minor nature, probably millions in number, rarely "report" to the Babu sitting in the air conditioned offices in Delhi boasting of his "Authority" because they have no confidence that there will be any solution to their day to day problems, forced to consume adulterated and sub standard foods every day sold under the very "nose" of the Babus who are vested with the responsibility! One often wonders where is the need for an organization like this which is more concerned with its "Authority" than the responsibility which comes along with it. There is no dispute that food safety in India is in shambles, incapable of solving even a fraction of the problem being faced by the citizens and as a cruel joke the charade continues! If the Commissioner is to be believed all Indian citizens must go to Delhi to buy safe sweets during forthcoming Deepawali from shops carrying his certificate!


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