Food safety is an important social and health priority for any country and is vital for its economic growth and progress. This article explores the regulatory aspects around food safety in India. In India, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is the apex food regulator. It is empowered by and functions under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India. The FSSAI implements and enforces food regulations as prescribed in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSS Act). The FSS Act, 2006 is the primary law for the regulation of food products and formulation and enforcement of food safety standards in our country. The Act is intended as an umbrella law for food safety by consolidating older laws, rules and regulations like Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954; Fruit Products Order, 1955; Meat Food Products Order, 1973; Vegetable Oil Products (Control) Order, 1947; Edible Oils Packaging (Regulation) Order 1988; Solvent Extracted Oil; De- Oiled Meal and Edible Flour (Control) Order, 1967 and Milk and Milk Products Order, 1992. The FSS Act is popularly known as the Food Act. The regulations of the FSS Act became effective in 2011 with FSSAI as its regulatory body.
In the FSSAI regulations, food products fall into two categories, standardized and non-standardized. The standardized food products are those for which standards are prescribed and do not require product approval prior to manufacture, sale, distribution, or import. The first time manufacturer or importer of standardized foods only requires an FSSAI license to begin a food business. Non-standardized food products do not have standards as their safety parameters are either not known or not yet ascertained. Presently FSSAI has standardized only 380 articles of food in 16 categories so all other foods require product approval if they are not listed among these 380 food items. Traditional foods also do not require product approval as they are being consumed for centuries in India. The ingredients and preparation methods are well known and this guarantees their safety. If, however, traditional foods use any new ingredients or food additive or new technologies in preparation, they need product approval.
Foods Imported into India have to follow the FSS Act, Rules & Regulations. If the food articles are standardized, the importer only needs a FSSAI license to import them. The importer also needs to comply with FSSAI regulations for sale and distribution of the food products. If a new or unknown food article is introduced for import, it is considered non-standardized and requires product approval under the Section 22 of the FSS Act, 2006. The FSS Act, 2006 does not apply to foods being exported out of India. Exporters do not require FSSAI product approval as these food products are not sold to Indian consumers.
The Indian food safety regulations are primarily based on the Codex Alimentarius. The Codex was formed with the collaborative efforts of the World Health Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization, two eminent United Nations health and food bodies. The Codex Alimentarius international food standards, guidelines and codes of practice contribute to the safety and quality of the food that reaches consumers. Since the FSSAI regulations are framed on the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius, they adhere to international standards. Other international standards formulated by global agencies like the European Food Safety Authority, Food Standards Australia New Zealand, and the USFDA have also to some extent been assimilated, integrated, and harmonized into the Indian standards, thereby bringing them almost at par with the global standards.
The FSSAI notifies laboratories and research institutions for the purpose of carrying out testing of food samples by food analysts. Apart from state laboratories, the FSSAI also notifies private laboratories for the purpose of carrying out food safety tests, based on their accreditation by the National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL). It could also notify referral laboratories, to which an appeal could be referred from any of the state/accredited laboratories. A total of 98 laboratories were accredited by FSSAI and 14 referral laboratories have been notified by FSSAI in India for the purpose of carrying out analysis of food samples.