Module 1. Concepts of quality, safety and food laws

Lesson 1


1.1 Introduction

India has a rich cultural heritage and the people believe in consuming home-made foods. Such foods are considered more nutritious and safe compared to processed foods as currently consumed in the western world. The food which we eat everyday has tremendous impact on our physical, mental and spiritual health. Currently, food consumption pattern, ever increasing demands on quality and safety are under continuous transformation and need critical appraisal to overview and timely adoption of corrective and preventive action in food supply chain. Consumer’s preference of processed food with new requirements especially minimally processed/ cost effective foods without chemical preservatives with enhanced functional and therapeutic features has put up pressure on manufacturer to adopt all ways and means to ensure quality and safe food to the consumers. These consumer demands are forcing the manufacturer to implement new quality (ISO 9001:2000) and food safety system (HACCP) during various stages of supply chain from milch animal to consumer.

Further, consumer movement across the globe has also increased in recent past and as a result export/ import of food products has become more vulnerable in complying safety requirements of the consumers. Globalization of the food supply chain, the increasing importance of the Codex Alimentarius Commission and the obligations emerging from the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreements have resulted in unprecedented interest in the development of food standards and regulation, and the strengthening of food control infrastructure at the country level. The challenges for food control authorities include:
  1. Increasing burden of food borne illness and emergence of new food borne hazards;
  2. Rapidly changing technologies in food production, processing and marketing;
  3. Developing science-based food control systems with a focus on consumer protection;
  4. International food trade and need for harmonization of food safety and quality standards;
  5. Changes in lifestyles, including rapid urbanization and
  6. Growing consumer awareness of food safety and quality issues and increasing demand for better information.
1.2 National Food Control System

Effective national food control systems are essential to protect the health and safety of domestic consumers. These are also critical in enabling countries to assure the safety and quality of their foods entering international trade and to ensure that imported foods conform to national requirements. The new global environment for food trade places considerable obligations on both importing and exporting countries to strengthen their food control systems and to implement and enforce risk-based food control strategies. To comply with these international requirements Food Safety and Standard Act 2006 has been enacted by the government of India to ensure quality and safe food to the consumers. Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has been mandated by the FSS Act 2006 for performing functions like to consolidate various acts and orders that have previously handled food related issues in various ministries and departments. FSSAI has been created for laying down science based standards for articles of food and to regulate their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption. The development of national food control system based on scientific principles and guidelines and which address all sectors of the food chain are urgently required particularly in developing and under-developed countries to achieve improved food safety, quality and nutrition.

1.2.1 Food control

Food control is defined as a mandatory regulatory activity of enforcement by national or local authorities to provide consumer protection and ensure that all foods during production, handling, storage, processing, and distribution are safe, wholesome and fit for human consumption; conform to safety and quality requirements; and are honestly and accurately labelled as prescribed by law.

The foremost responsibility of food control is to enforce the food law(s) protecting the consumer against unsafe, impure and fraudulently presented food by prohibiting the sale of food not of the nature, substance or quality demanded by the purchaser.

Confidence in the safety and integrity of the food supply is an important requirement for consumers. Food borne disease outbreaks, involving agents such as Escherichia coli, Salmonella and chemical contaminants, highlight problems with food safety and increase public anxiety that modern farming systems, food processing and marketing do not provide adequate safeguards for public health. Factors which contribute to potential hazards in foods include improper agricultural practices; poor hygiene at all stages of the food chain; lack of preventive controls in food processing and preparation operations; misuse of chemicals; contaminated raw materials, ingredients and water; inadequate or improper storage, etc.

Specific concerns about food hazards have usually focused on:
  1. Microbiological hazards;
  2. Xenobiotic residues including synthetic (manmade) pesticides, drugs, antibiotics, plastics etc.
  3. Misuse of food additives
  4. Chemical contaminants, including biological toxin; and
  5. Adulteration, artificial foods
  6. The list has been further extended to cover genetically modified organisms, allergens, veterinary drug residues, radionucleides and growth promoting hormones used in the preparation of animal products
Consumers expect protection from hazards occurring along the entire food chain, from primary producer through consumer (often described as the farm-to-table continuum). Protection will only occur if all sectors in the chain operate in an integrated way and food control systems address all stages of this chain. As no mandatory activity of this nature can achieve its objectives fully without the cooperation and active participation of all stakeholders e.g. farmers, industry and consumers, the term Food Control System is used to describe the integration of a mandatory regulatory approach with preventive and educational strategies that protect the whole food chain.

Thus an ideal food control system should include effective enforcement of mandatory requirements, along with training and education, community outreach programmes and promotion of voluntary compliance. The introduction of preventive approaches such as the Hazard Analysis Critical and Control Point (HACCP) system have resulted in industry taking greater responsibility for and control of food safety risks. Such an integrated approach facilitates improved consumer protection, effectively stimulates agriculture and the food processing industry and promotes domestic and international food trade.

1.3 Global Considerations

With an expanding world economy, liberalization of food trade, growing consumer demand, developments in food science and technology and improvements in transport and communication international trade in fresh and processed food will continue to increase. Access of countries to food export markets will continue to depend on their capacity to meet the regulatory requirements of importing countries. Creating and sustaining demand for their food products in world markets relies on building the trust and confidence of importers and consumers in the integrity of their food systems. Such food protection measures are essential in view of agricultural production being the focal point of the economies of most under developing countries.

1.3.1 Codex alimentarius commission

The Codex Alimentarius Commission (CAC) is an inter-governmental body that coordinates food standards at the international level. Its main objectives are to protect the health of consumers and ensure fair practices in food trade. The CAC has proved to be most successful in achieving international harmonization in food quality and safety requirements. It has formulated international standards for a wide range of food products and specific requirements covering pesticide residues, food additives, veterinary drug residues, hygiene, food contaminants, labelling etc. These Codex recommendations are used by governments to determine and refine policies and programmes under their national food control system. More recently, Codex has embarked on a series of activities based on risk assessment to address microbiological hazards in food an area previously unattended. Codex work has created worldwide awareness of food safety, quality and consumer protection issues and has achieved international consensus on how to deal with these scientifically through a risk-based approach. As a result, there has been a continuous appraisal of the principles of food safety and quality at the international level. There is increasing pressure for the adoption of these principles at the national level.

1.3.2 SPS and TBT agreements

The conclusion of the Uruguay Round of Multilateral Trade Negotiations in Marrakech led to the establishment of the WTO on 1 January 1995 and to the coming into force of the Agreement on the Application of Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and the Agreement on Technical Barriers to Trade (TBT). Both these Agreements are relevant in understanding the requirements for food protection measures at the national level, and the rules under which food is traded internationally. The SPS Agreement confirms the right of WTO member countries to apply measures to protect human, animal and plant life and health. The Agreement covers all relevant laws, decrees, regulations; testing, inspection, certification and approval procedures; and packaging and labelling requirements directly related to food safety. Member States countries are asked to apply only those measures for protection that are based on scientific principles, only to the extent necessary, and not in a manner which may constitute a disguised restriction on international trade. The agreement encourages use of international standards, guidelines or recommendations where they exist and identifies those from Codex (relating to food additives, veterinary drugs and pesticide residues, contaminants, methods of analysis and sampling and codes and guidelines of hygienic practices) to be consistent with provisions of SPS. Thus, the Codex standards serve as a benchmark for comparison of national sanitary and Phytosanitary measures. While it is not compulsory for member states to apply Codex standards, it is in their best interests to harmonize their national food standards with those elaborated by Codex. The TBT Agreement requires that technical regulations on traditional quality factors, fraudulent practices, packaging, labelling etc. imposed by various countries will not be more restrictive on imported products than they are on products produced domestically. It also encourages use of international standards.
Last modified: Monday, 1 October 2012, 4:15 AM