Apr 26, 2024

Food Safety in Indian Packaged Foods

Recently, the Public Eye and the International Baby Food Action Network (IBFAN), revealed that certain food products, particularly those manufactured by Nestle, contain sugar content in different regions. According to the report, Nestle adds 7.3 grams of sugars per serving in some regions, whereas the same products sold in Europe often contain no additional sugar. This added sugar can  lead to the development of a lifelong preference for sugary products among children in lower and middle-income countries.  

Popular Nestle products such as Cerelac and Nido were found to contain up to 6 grams of sugar per serving of Cerelac, whereas the same brands sold in Britain and Germany reportedly contain zero sugar. These findings raise questions about the nutritional quality and consistency of such products. In response, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has initiated sampling checks on various food products, including those from renowned spice brands such as MDH and Everest. This action follows apprehensions raised by authorities in Singapore and Hong Kong regarding Indian spices, particularly concerning the presence of the pesticide ‘ethylene oxide’ exceeding permissible levels.

Another study conducted by the George Institute for Global Health, analyzing 400,000 products worldwide, has revealed that Indian packaged foods rank among the worst globally in terms of excessive sugar, salt, saturated fats, and calorie content. 

These findings underscore the importance of addressing issues related to food adulteration and promoting healthier dietary choices. In this Weekly, let’s understand the law on food safety and what you can do to protect yourself. 

What is Food Adulteration?

The Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954 aims to safeguard consumer health and ensure the integrity and safety of food products consumed. Section 2(ia) of the Act states that a food is adulterated if it displays the following key elements; 

  • if it is not of the same nature or quality or containing substances that have been represented to the consumer.
  • if it has any product that has the potential to cause harm to the consumer’s health. This could refer to substances that are known to be toxic or harmful when ingested. 
  • if the food has been prepared in an unsanitary manner that adversely affects the health of the consumer and poses risks to health. This could involve improper handling, processing, or storage of the food leading to contamination or deterioration of its quality. 
  • if there is any  addition of cheaper substitutes to the food, which negatively impacts the consumer’s health. This includes instances where inferior or harmful ingredients are used as substitutes for higher-quality or safer alternatives. 
  • if the product includes any poisonous, rotten or decomposed elements, including any dead animal or any element from a dead animal.
  • if the product contains any colouring material or any preservatives that is either prohibited or is present in quantities in excess of the permitted limits.
  • if the product or any constituents of it fall below the prescribed standards of quality or purity.

This  definition covers substances in solid, liquid, or gaseous form that, when mixed with or removed from the food product, render it unhealthy or injurious to the consumer’s health.

What can you do about adulterated food?

If you suspect that a food product contains harmful substances and could pose a risk to your safety, you can:

  1. Report to Authorities: Contact local health authorities or the Food Safety Authority’s district commissioner to report your concerns. They are responsible for investigating and addressing issues related to food safety and can take appropriate action to ensure consumer protection. To address the concerns of consumers, Food Business Operators and other stakeholders, FSSAI has a dedicated helpline working on 24×7 (Toll-Free No. 1800112100).
  2. Utilize Online Platforms: Many countries have online platforms or apps where consumers can report food safety concerns. Platforms such as ‘Food Safety Voice’, the FoSCoS website, or the Food Safety Connect app allow individuals to register complaints regarding adulterated, substandard, or unsafe food products.
  3. File a Complaint: You can also file a formal complaint with relevant regulatory agencies or consumer protection bodies, In India, you can file a complaint before the consumer protection authority through telephone or e-portal or approach your nearest consumer court. 
  4. Seek Medical Advice: If you have consumed a food product that you believe may be harmful, seek medical advice immediately. A healthcare professional can assess your symptoms and provide appropriate treatment or guidance.
  5. Document Evidence: Keep any evidence related to the suspected food product, such as packaging, receipts, or photographs. This information may be useful for authorities during their investigation.

The Role of Authorities

The Food Safety Officer is allowed to enter and inspect any place where any potentially adulterated food or element adulterant is manufactured or kept. If any such item or adulterant is found with a food manufacturer or distributor, it can be seized by the Officer and a sample of the adulterant can be submitted for analysis to a Food Analyst. The manufacturer/distributor from whom the item adulterant is seized has to prove that they were not going to use the adulterant for purposes of adulteration

What are the Punishments for the Adulteration of Food?

Violations under the prevention of food adulteration laws may lead to serious penalties, including:

  • On a first time offence, the vendor can get jail time for 6 months to 1 year, a fine of Rs. 1000 to 5000.
  • For a second offence,, there can be jail time for up to 6 years and also cancellation of licence.
  • When an adulterated food is injurious to health, the vendor can be punished with jail time up to 6 months and a fine under the Section 272 of the Indian Penal Code. 

As citizens, we can ensure food safety and protect ourselves from potential harm caused by unsafe food products by reporting any potential or proven food adulteration to the relevant authorities promptly.