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Sampling and testing of food in view of the latest FSS regulations

14,December, 2020


Safe food saves lives! Food safety is crucial for both food and nutrition security. Foodborne diseases and poor nutrition often combine to a vicious cycle of worsening health. Food safety threats emerge at all stages of the food value chain.
In India, food-borne diseases (FBD) cause up to 120,000 passes every year. Children under 5 years are at 40 per cent more danger with around 30,000 passings every year. The amount of FBD cases is expected to ascend from 100 million to 150 – 177 million in 2030, as compared to 2011. This implies that by 2030, one out of 9 individuals on average fall sick, up from one out of 12 in 2015.
The statistics are just frightening. These numbers and the current predicament that we are in clearly indicate that we need stringent food sampling and testing at all levels. That’s where FSSAI steps in.
Role of FSSAI
Set up under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has laid out science based standards for food handling in every regard. FSSAI controls their storage, manufacture, sale, distribution and import to ensure availability of secure and wholesome food for human consumption. Its role in food quality is to provide satisfaction to every consumer.
FSSAI formulates the measures in food sampling and testing to eliminate hazardous and toxic elements of the environment. As a resultant, every consumer receives an equal level of guarantee of food safety.
Food Sampling and Testing
It is a process of drawing a small portion or a ‘sample’ of food for testing and analysis. The procedure aims to show quality and nature of the whole specimen. A food sample is normally tested to check whether it adheres to the safety standards of the food product laid out by FSSAI. It is meant to check whether the ingredients or additives used are safe and free from any kind of adulteration and contamination and are used within the limits prescribed.
Broadly, there are two types of samples taken out by food safety officials in India.
•    Legal samples
Legal samples are those samples, where after testing, if an adverse result is obtained, appropriate legal action must be initiated for a quick relief. In other words, legal samples are the ones that are used for prosecution. These samples are drawn out as per the sampling process detailed in FSS Act 2006 and are to be strictly followed by all food safety officials.
•    Surveillance samples
Surveillance samples are the ones that are taken out for purpose of research or survey. These samples cannot be used for prosecution. The plans are formulated by Food Authority and forwarded to Central or State Authority for testing samples, as per the instructions mentioned in plan. Surveillance sampling is done to assess quality and safety of food processed, sold or imported in the country.
Importance of food sampling and testing
Here’s why food sampling and testing must be implemented on a larger scale:
•    Protects and promotes public health
The most important objective of sampling and testing is to protect public health. It detects naturally occurring contaminants, toxins, use of unsuitable ingredients and excessive use of additives. It also aims at finding presence of ingredients a customer may be allergic to. This in turn contributes to their safety and well-being of the consumer.
•    Detects fraudulent activities
Customers can sometimes get short end of the stick as a direct result of deliberate activity to defraud. One aspect which is becoming increasingly important to customers is accurate and comprehensive description. For many activities, sampling and testing will be the only way in which mislabelling or fraud can be detected; this particularly holds true for imported food sampling, where scrutinising manufacturing process is not an option.
•    Gives consumers relevant and sufficient information to make informed choices
Sampling and analysis is a vital tool to help to check accuracy and veracity of this labelling information. Customers are looking increasingly to nutritional labelling to help them make informed choices about which products to buy. Such labelling information ranges from details on the presence of substances that a customer may not want to information that may provide guidance on the authenticity of the food (e.g. the quantity of key ingredients) for health or ethical reasons.
•    Ensures that food standards are maintained
Sampling and testing is an essential tool to check whether food products meet various statutory standards, the absence of which would likely result in degradation of these products.
•    Provides food producers product quality advice
It informs food retailers or producers of details about testing results that they may not be aware of. This in turn would help them take appropriate action on the same. Additionally, this would keep the manufacturers in check that their products are being monitored for legal compliance and consumer protection
•    Promotes fair trade and prevents bad practice
Businesses that do not encourage foul play will want a level playing field for themselves. They need the assurance that their competitors will not cut corners or commit any fraud. Therefore, sampling and food testing provide the assurance that food laws are in place and are enforced consistently and efficiently.
Bottom Line
FSSAI has been the apex regulatory body handling food related issues for so many years now. A country hit with food insecurity to the highest levels, must comply with the food safety standards laid out by FSSAI, and make ardent efforts to keep those hair-raising numbers in check. Together we can.
(The author is CEO of Equinox Labs. He can be reached at ashwin@equinoxlab.com)

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