With Onam – Kerala's harvest festival – round the corner, Biju Prabhakar, the southern state's food safety commissioner issued a notice to the food safety officers (FSOs) of all its districts, instructing them to form squads and conduct raids on the premises of food business operators (FBOs) to check the quality of the wheat, rice, sugar, jaggery, spices, cardamom, ghee, fruit and vegetables used by them to prepare the festive delicacies.
Confirming the development, K Anil Kumar, Kerala's joint food commissioner, said, “The process of collecting the samples of these items has already begun. The samples have been sent to the regional analytical laboratory in Kakkanad (in Kochi), but owing to the inadequacy of infrastructure at the facility, we have also sent the samples to laboratories accredited by the government for testing.”
The procedure for sending the samples for testing is compliant with the prescribed format. Since they are sent to more than one facility, the FSOs collect twice the quantity prescribed in the Food Safety and Standards Regulations (FSSR), 2011, and send both samples for analysis. Upon dividing the same into two, the analyst then sends one pack to the government-accredited lab.
The food analysts ensure that the results of the tests are declared in a time-bound manner, and if there is an unusual result, they bring it to the notice of the food safety commissioner immediately.He is also notified if there is a delay in obtaining the results for any reason, be it the shortage of staff or inadequate equipment.
During a recent raid, Kumar said Kerala's food safety department collected the samples of A1 SKG Ghee and Amritham Pure Ghee, which are manufactured by Tripunithura and Muvattupuzha,companies based in the neighbouring state of Tamil Nadu. He said, “They were sent to the laboratory for a test, and were found to be of a sub-standard quality. Prabhakar ordered a ban on them.”
“Any food business operator found stocking and/or selling the aforementioned brands would either be imprisoned for upto six months or have to pay a fine of upto Rs 2 lakh. Owing to the huge demand for these articles during Onam, food safety operators would be conducting routine checks and collecting the samples until the end of the festival,” the state's joint food commissioner informed.
S Venkatesan, managing director, Sri Kannan and Company, a Tamil Nadu-based firm which manufactures A1 SKC ghee, said, “A1 SKG Ghee is a brand that imitates ours. They claim to provide a better quality of ghee than ours in order to compete with us, but in the process they offer a product of a sub-standard quality. I am happy that Kerala's food safety department has banned their brand.”