Feb 14, 2022

Food Safety: A Collective Responsibility

Sruthy Sriram

What is food safety?

Food is the basis for our health and well-being. We often assume that food is safe, but in a globalised world, food is grown, processed, stored and handled by a large network of people before it is consumed by us. In other words, there are lengthy food chains from farm to table. Therefore, we require standards and regulations for food safety, to ensure that food stays safe at every stage of the food chain.

Food safety means ensuring that food is acceptable for human consumption, and that food does not contain hazards that may harm the health of consumers (though a safe level of hazards is acceptable). Foodborne hazards such as bacteria, viruses or pesticide residues are often invisible to the plain eye.

The importance of food safety

With around 600 million cases of foodborne illnesses, and 3 million people dying from food and waterborne diseases every year, unsafe food is a significant threat to human health. Further, unsafe food disproportionately affects vulnerable people like women and children, migrants and conflict-ridden populations. Strengthening food safety results in increased food security, human health, economic prosperity and sustainable development. As consumers of food and responsible citizens, each one of us should make food safety our concern.

World Food Safety Day

In 2019, the First International Food Safety Conference took place in Addis Ababa, followed by the International Forum On Food Safety and Trade in Geneva. With the theme being “The Future of Food Safety”, a global commitment was made to scale up food safety.

This year, World Food Safety Day will be celebrated on 7 June, with a focus to prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks. The theme is “Food safety, everyone’s business”, to promote global food safety awareness and call upon everyone to take action.

To supplement the UN’s endeavours towards food safety:

  • Countries and decision makers in the government must ensure safe and nutritious food for all, complying with global food standards and establishing regulatory food control systems
  • Food producers need to adopt good agricultural practices
  • Food business operators in the private sector must make sure food is safe by using food safety management mechanisms
  • As members of civil society, all consumers should have a right to safe, healthy and nutritious food, and food safety should be a concern of the general public

Food safety law in India

Food safety in India is mainly regulated by the Food Safety and Standards Act (2006), along with the Food Safety and Standards Rules (2011) and the Food Safety and Standards Regulations.

The Act consolidates food-related laws and establishes the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) for setting science based standards for food items. The FSSAI regulates the manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import of food, to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for consumption.

The Act of 2006 establishes:

  • Duties and functions of the FSSAI, which also has the power to make regulations on food safety and standards. Further, the Act draws up an accountable regulatory framework with defined functions, powers, and responsibilities of different food authorities, bodies and committees.
  • General food safety provisions covering food additives, contaminants, pesticides, genetic modification of food, and food packaging and labelling.
  • Licensing and registration of food business.
  • Special responsibilities regarding food safety, including responsibilities of food business operators, and the accountability of manufacturers, packers, wholesalers, distributors and sellers of food products.
  • Procedures for recalling/withdrawing food that does not meet the safety standards.
  • Provisions relating to import of food.
  • Penalties for offences that violate food safety standards, and a Food Safety Appellate Tribunal to judge such matters.

Food safety should be a shared responsibility between governments, producers and consumers, to ensure that the food we consume is safe, and to reduce foodborne diseases that damage our health. Every individual must act as an equally invested stakeholder in upholding the safety of food, a basic necessity of life.

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