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OVERVIEW

Food safety and certification keys to growth
Thursday, 18 February, 2010, 11 : 20 AM [IST]
Hasan Mulani, Mumbai


Changing consumption preferences/habits, growing market demand, lifestyles and evolving regulatory requirements are the present key drivers of the Indian food industry. Today, the newer generation requires not only products of convenience but also demands better nutrition and information of the food he/she consumes. Growing markets call for improvements in production process, packaging, shelf life, storage & logistics.

Additionally, regulatory requirements, particularly from developed markets like the EU and the US make it mandatory for food producers & processors to ensure that their products meet the required standards and specifications. All these changes are aimed at increasing the overall quality of the product.

To make better production, meet domestic and global demand and achieve sustainability in quality food the country requires modern state-of-the-art technology, more proactive safety managements like HACCP, ISO 22000 and active participation of both – the government and private players. Says Dr Uday Annapure – reader in food chemistry and coordinator of Biotechnology, Association of Food Scientists and Technologists, “The demand for quality food will only continue to increase. We have to accept this reality and gear ourselves to achieve it; not just once, but consistently.”

With the new FSSAI Act coming into force it is believed that similar changes are bound to occur. Further universally applicable laws such as Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCAP) and Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) are very effective programmes for food safety and quality.

The new FSSAI Act will focus more on food quality & hygiene than adulteration. Introduction of this law will be one of the remarkable events of the country’s food industry. With this law the government has made an attempt to shift the burden from agencies to the manufacturers, says Dr Annapure.

“Sunrise” industry with huge opportunity

The Indian food processing industry is widely recognised as a “sunrise industry” in the country.

According to Harsh Chopra, country manager – India, Intertek, the Indian food sector is largely unorganised and the current market size of the quality assurance and certification is over Rs 100 crore per annum.

Last year in January – the United Nations World Food Programme made it mandatory that it will only accept ISO 22000 certified items from its suppliers who are certified from certification bodies having accreditation from National Accreditation Board for Certification Bodies (NABCB).

Mofpi’s pan-India initiatives like Food Safety and Quality Year 2008-09 and Fssai’s Safe Food, Tasty Food has also opened new gates for the food certification sector.

The International Organisation for Standardisation ISO 22000:2005 requires for a food safety management system which demonstrates food manufacturer’s safety and provides a means to demonstrate that an organisation is taking the necessary steps to control food safety hazards.

According to experts, the standard has three parts like good manufacturing practices (GMP) or pre-requisite programmes requirements, HACCP principles and management system requirements. ISO 22000:2005 applies to all organisations, regardless of their size, that impact the food chain. This includes ingredient suppliers, equipment manufacturers, packaging suppliers, service providers, farmers, food processors, and catering and retailing organisations.

Step-by-step quality check

The food factories should be periodically audited by the health inspectors from municipal councils or ministry of health to ensure that packed foods strictly conform to the specified or approved quality standards. If there is any lot or batch found to be not conforming to such standards, the health authorities can direct the factories to recall the substandard/adulterated products and re-process or destroy them as may be warranted in the best interest of public health, Dr Annapure asserted.

Harsh Chopra also suggested step-to-step certification to achieve 100% safe and quality. “Our country is best known for substandard food production. To accomplish global standards not only for exports but also for domestic consumption we need to budge our focus from end-product certification to every stage certification. Indian food processors should seek certification at every stage – pre-harvest where certification companies will audit quality of seeds, ingredients; post-harvest supply chain including transportation, warehouse, storage, processing and lastly the final product,” Chopra asserted.

Three mega events

In coming years, India will host three mega sporting events namely the Hockey World Cup (February 28 to March 13, 2010), the Commonwealth Games (October 2010) and the Cricket World Cup (February 2011). These three events will witness participation and spectators from over 70-75 countries.

To feed quality and safe food, Mofpi has decided to involve stakeholders including the government, non-governmental organisations, local bodies, owners of establishments, consumers, the regulatory machinery for food safety and food certification.

Experts also expect that there would be competition between the various players in providing better quality food, which will in turn increase the incomes of the establishments and boost food certification drastically.

According to reports, the Quality Council of India (QCI), an autonomous body to establish and operate the national accreditation structure would advertise and select a suitable number of consultants/certification companies who will help the food establishments, restaurants that are participants of the Commonwealth Games 2010.

“Adequate number of certifying agencies will be identified and accredited by QCI under its existing accreditation schemes which would be utilised for auditing the food establishments,” the Council said.

The Indian industry is represented in QCI by three premier industry associations Assocham, CII and Ficci.

Food safety v/s GM food

While discussing about the ongoing debate on genetically modified and its impact on India’s export market, Dr Annapure said, “GM food is the only option we have to attain food security in present and future. In recent years the safety and quality of GM foods have been questioned but if the consumer confidence and demand is high in scientifically developed countries like the US and China one should not worry about the consequence of GM crops.”

The genetic modification is nothing but a manual cross-breeding which is similar to natural breeding. From over thousand years, many plants had hybridised its seeds with other plants through wind, insects and other mode of DNA transplants. Today, experts are following the same pattern to enhance the food grain production.
 
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