Even with the increased focus directed towards the rules and regulations of the FSSAI, in light of the ongoing Maggi noodles’ controversy, understanding the exact requirements is still a concern for many small and medium stakeholders of the F&B industry. Dr Saurabh Arora, the founder of the foodsafetyhelpline.com, talks about the importance of such initiatives and challenges faced by the industry By Archana Sharma
With the increasing focus on food safety issues, the guidelines and allowed limits for various parameters are being made stringent. It is gradually becoming imperative for various stakeholders of the food and beverage industry to understand and implement the requirements as per the guidelines. However, the guidelines can be tough to understand and therefore hard to implement at times. Keeping this in mind and with the objective of helping food businesses understand and comply with the requirements of the Food Safety and Standards Act and the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Dr Saurabh Arora, executive director, Auriga and managing director, Arbro, founded the online portal, ‘foodsafetyhelpline.com’. “The website has a simple objective to help food businesses understand and comply with the requirements of this new and rapidly evolving food law which has been put in place to provide safe and hygienic food to all the citizens of India,” states Arora.
Talking about the initiative, Arora informs that the main idea was to help their clients who had difficulty in understanding the exact requirements. “The main issue lies in understanding the regulation, especially for the small and medium enterprises since the bigger corporations can sort out the issues with the help of their legal teams and hire personnel to sort out the complexities,” he says. Food business operators from across the industry are connected with the portal for their regulatory and food operations requirements. The subscribers range from food business operators to consultants to suppliers who are regularly participating in the activities of this portal.
Carrying out testing procedures for quite some time, Arora feels that with the help of this website, they can make the process understandable and implement the requirements as per the food safety authority in a simple way. In order to further simplify the process, Arora recently launched the ‘Food Safety Mobile Application’. “With a growing need of a source which has everything related to the FSSAI compliance needs, food business operators can now access all the latest updates and notifications regarding FSSAI regulations plus a self-inspection tool through Food Safety Mobile App, which not only provides information on FSSAI compliance needs but also features food safety inspection for business,” he states. The mobile app helps the food business community, who intend to operate with FSSAI regulations with a traceability system at their premises. Currently the mobile app is available for Android phone users and within six months of launch has been downloaded more than 1000 times and has published around 750 reports. “The mobile app contains a checklist for self-inspection as the need of the hour is for people to understand the regulations themselves since only then can they adhere to them,” he adds.
Highlighting the inquiries received so far, Arora said the people from different industries contact them regarding issues ranging from licensing to labeling. “We are contacted by people who want to understand if they require a license and the process for getting it, or the manufacturers of processed and packaged foods inquiring about the labeling requirements,” he states. They also receive inquiries from the health foods and supplements clientele or the need for separate approvals for all of these supplements under the product approval which is a major concern for most clients.
Also, in an effort to educate the participants of the food and beverage industry, Arora has conducted many seminars online. “Based on the queries received on our portal, we have also conducted webinars on licensing registration, product approval and specifications and labeling requirements as about 75 per cent of the cases going on with the food authority are around labeling,” he adds.
With the industry going through major changes and many more people entering the Indian food and beverage industry, Arora feels that the main issue is the lack of awareness. “During a few studies conducted by us, we realised that even two-star or three-star rated hotels do not know they need to have a license or if they do, then they are unable to understand that a license is just a means of ensuring the safety of food,” he says. Elaborating further, Arora mentions, “The objective is not just getting the license but to undertake self-inspections and regularly test the product to maintain the standards. The industry not just lacks awareness in terms of understanding the procedure but also isn’t able to understand the need for implementation.”
Talking about the need for stronger reinforcement, Arora states, “At present, getting a license is not adding much value in terms of enforcement on the ground. And even though the authorities are undertaking measures for enforcing the standards, they need to do the same on a larger scale with more staff and setting up more labs, another major task.”
Arora believes that since the Indian market has been able to comply with the toughest regulations of US and Europe for more than a decade and providing them with food products matching up to their standards, the Indian businesses will certainly be able to enhance the standards, which the organised sector is already carrying out to some extent. “The international food brand chains are already implementing these standards leading to reduced food safety mishaps. The main method of achieving this is the feedback of the consumer,” he states. However, the major issues lies with the small Indian restaurants where people have difficulty understanding the concept of food hygiene and safety.
Even though FSSAI is trying to spread awareness, the product approval system still remains a challenge for many. However, Arora feels that the efforts are being taken in a positive direction. Highlighting the broader perspective, Arora states that the food safety regulations are a combination of some of the best features taken from different countries but the biggest issue still is the availability of standards for a limited number of products only. “The process is going to take time as it is a mammoth task but I personally feel that it is a step in the right direction,” he adds.