A decade after India introduced a single nationwide law - the Food Safety and Standards Act - to maintain uniform standards for food items in the country, the authority that implements the law, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has come out with a comprehensive plan to make it work, in letter and spirit.
It has developed a uniform operational manual for its field official, launched an IT platform to do digital inspections and a nationwide network of all food testing labs on a single technology platform, Indian Food Laboratory Network (InFoLNet), in Delhi.
While the single nationwide manual for Food Safety Officers (FSOs) is expected to help them follow uniform practices and procedures across the country, the leverage of digital and smart technologies is meant to bring an end to arbitrariness and adhocism in inspections and sampling. The new digital platform, Food Safety Compliance through Regular Inspections and Sampling (FoSCoRIS), replaces manual inspections with digital inspections. It uses simple mobile devices with dashboards to monitor, on real-time basis, at the district, state and national level. For consistency, standard matrices have been developed for inspection of various kinds of food businesses. FoSCoRIS is to ensure a consistent experience to food businesses across States and UTs, thereby building their confidence in the regulatory environment, an FSSAI statement said.
For credible and efficient food testing for food businesses, a nationwide network of all food testing labs on a single technology platform, Indian Food Laboratory Network (InFoLNet), has also been launched. This would bring in much desired standardisation in food testing, that is 'one food product, one set of parameters and one parameter one test method', the agency said. Several measures towards trade facilitation, including a single window clearance fully integrated with Custom Authorities and risk-based inspection, have been adopted. To ensure hassle free imports, a 'Manual for Food Imports' has also been developed.
All these tools are part of the Food Regulatory Portal, a full service, business-friendly portal for food businesses that focuses on six key areas viz. food standards; consistent enforcement; hassle free food imports; credible food testing; codified food safety practices; and training and capacity building. "This would prove to be a game changer by addressing food business concerns across the spectrum by ensuring ease of entry; reduced burden of compliance and facilitating trade", FSSAI says.
To ensure consistency and predictability of business environment, a nationwide uniform law, the Food Safety and Standards Act was enacted in 2006. While this law had envisioned a single reference point for laws on food across the nation, its implementation across the States & UTs has not always been uniform due to legacy issues, leading to business uncertainties. Further, even at the national level, a few specific issues continue to be looked after by different ministries / agencies such as legal metrology, customs, plant and animal quarantine, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and AGMARK. The launch of the Food Regulatory Portal is thus a major development, as it creates a robust environment for uniform implementation of the law across States / UTs and coordinated approach across central agencies, leading to a transparent and enabling business environment, FSSAI states.
While FSSAI is the principal regulatory body for food, six other agencies are also involved for specific purposes. To ensure a single point of references for all food related business compliances, the Food Regulatory Portal also has compiled related information and links to other national agencies in the food safety ecosystem such as Legal Metrology, Customs, Plant and Animal Quarantine, Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) and AGMARK. An institutional mechanism for interagency coordination and cooperation and integrated grievance redressal is also on the anvil, the statement said.