The Food Safety Conclave at India Food Forum 2017, represented by top officials from the Central Government and Industry delved into various critical aspects of food safety – the rapidly evolving scenario in the food industry, food quality and standards, recent regulations, best practices, and challenges and opportunities related to food safety. The discussion was moderated by Vice President – Ethics & Compliance – Asia, Walmart, Shalini Chakravorty.
An increasingly aware consumer today wants to take informed decisions about what h/she consumes, which has pitch-forked the issue of food safety centre stage. Consumers’ food value equation is gradually changing from price, taste and convenience to health, wellness, safety, social impact and experience. Wellness and safety are definitely influencing the consumer behaviour and they are increasingly looking for information such as food safety standards, and complete and accurate labelling and traceability of the food products they buy. In India, an ever expanding consumer base, concerned about food quality and safety are the important drivers for the increased attention to food safety.
Some facts below from the WHO Food Safety fact sheet also reiterate the importance of food safety:
• Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances, causes more than 200 diseases – ranging from diarrhea to cancer.
• An estimated 600 million – almost 1 in 10 people in the world – fall ill after eating contaminated food and 420,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs).
• Food-borne diseases impede socio-economic development by straining healthcare systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade.
Today, consumers expect protection from hazards occurring along the entire food chain. Providing adequate protection to the consumer by merely sampling and analysing the final product is not possible, hence the emphasis is on introduction of preventive measures at all stages of the food production and distribution chain. This calls for a determined, innovative, inclusive and participative approach from all stakeholders that are involved in food chain, from farm-to-fork. Not only is the responsibility of providing safe food to consumers of critical importance, the responsibility itself needs to be shared equally at every stage of the value chain, starting from the first steps of food production.
Not surprisingly, the food industry – including growers, processors, retailers, distributors, foodservice operators – has become conscious about their products and offerings. Also, since most consumers receive their food from retail and foodservice establishments, a significant share of the responsibility for providing safe food to the consumer rests with them. Close collaboration among the regulatory authorities, retail operators and foodservice establishments can make a great impact on food safety aspects.
Secretary General, Quality Council of India and Conclave Chairperson Dr. R. P. Singh, started the session by saying that food affects the quality of life, which impacts employment, exports and contribution to GDP. “It is the joint responsibility of Government and industry to protect consumers and provide best quality food”. He also emphasised on the need for harmonising Indian regulations with globally accepted norms of consumer safety and making available the same quality of food products to domestic consumers as that which is exported.
Advisor – Quality Assurance, FSSAI, Dr. N Bhaskar reiterated the role of Government and the support of regulators in ensuring that safe food is provided to consumers amidst growing calls upon the Government to accept greater responsibility for food safety and consumer protection. “Regulators have made a beginning with a multi-pronged strategy. What consumers want from the regulators and stakeholders is the 3Rs – Responsive, Responsible and Regulator. We, as regulators, have similar expectations from the stakeholders – to be responsive and be responsible retailers because these 3Rs are shared responsibilities,” he said.
Elaborating on the initiatives by FSSAI, he added: “We are also educating young minds on the hygiene and safety aspects of food through inclusion of awareness material in textbooks. FSSAI, as a regulator, has taken the responsibility of upgrading the notified laboratories and state food laboratories in terms of manpower training and equipment they require, and showing greater sensitivity to and acting on newer threats to food safety. As appellate authority, we are building testing laboratories in private space.”
President, AFST Mumbai & Head, Technical Regulatory, Dr. Prabodh Halde, concurred with Dr. Singh and Dr. Bhaskar. Amplifying on the 3R approach, he said, “I would like to add 2 T (Trust and Transparency) and one C (Compliance) to the 3 R. Compliance today is not a requirement but a hygiene and if you are not compliant you will be out of the business. Compliance has to be in letter and spirit. With the advent of social media platforms, aware citizens today have a public voice and one single mistake can prove disastrous for FBOs. Being compliant is a competitive sustainable advantage and is integral to the growth of the business. The FSSAI is adding new regulations and the industry needs to keep pace with the changing trends and respond adequately with transparent implementation by leveraging technology.”
Head of Quality, Nestlé South Asia, Omprakash Arora observed: “Consumers chose a product from a supermarket or shelf based on the implicit trust they place on the producer and that trust is based on the inherent quality of the product. We ensure quality in our food products by having quality management systems in place. Any system requires hardware and software. Hardware involves the conceptualization of the product, designing and manufacturing processes, and verifying the product and processes through internal and external audits. Software of quality management system is the pervasive quality culture that is ingrained in our employees.”
Hardware of Quality Management Systems for Ensuring Food Safety
This entails having in place and complying with the following standards:
Sourcing safety: Food safety covers the entire supply chain, starting with farmers and suppliers. Rigorous procurement and auditing processes ensure safe, high quality raw materials are sourced and only from FSSAI licensed suppliers. Defining specifications for the materials and performing checks ensure compliance with the most stringent regulations. Defining processes ensure traceability and recall.
Pointing to the sourcing strategy employed by his company, Head – Quality, FCL (Future Group), Venkatesha Prasanna said, “At the sourcing level we train vendors in product quality requirements and accept only those products that meet the minimum criteria. At the manufacturing level we have all the quality control mechanism and audits in place. Our products have stringent product quality norms including such parameters that are not mandated by FSSAI, like the microbiological parameter. We have implemented supply chain management standards at our DC and supply chains and we have third party independent audits.”
Storage safety: Ensure proper segregation of raw materials and prepared foods and store food and non-food products in storage. Ensure dedicated zones to prevent cross contamination in stores. To maintain the nutrition value of the food products, ensure temperature regulation.
Touching on the sourcing and storage aspects, Head – R&D and QA, Reliance Retail, Dr. Vinod Dhanuka said, “Reliance supply chain has many categories of products and for each product we have separate designs for ensuring safety and quality with regards to it perishable nature, shelf life and temperature requirements. We have different distribution centres for different products and constantly train and educate our employees for effective implementation along with regular audit appraisals.”
Head – F&V Quality and Innovation, Bigbasket, Raj Kumar Singh spoke about how his company sources only those produce that meet stringent regulations. “Freshness and safety are the index for fresh commodities like fruits and vegetables. At our distribution centre, we have three separate temperature zones – chilled (0-5°C), ambient (25°C) and hardy (30°C +) – for different commodities. Last mile logistical challenges remain but we are incorporating more innovations in technology to keep delivering fresh produce to our consumers.”
Production safety: Production sites should be designed to meet the highest quality and safety standards. This includes preventing foreign bodies from entering products, enabling the management of allergens, and controlling pests and calibrating the equipments and manufacturing environment to produce safe products. Training of employees in safe food handling practices is important. There should be backward integration with suppliers to ensure standards are being met.
Emphasising on the training of employees, Product Manager – Food SAR, Bureau Veritas, Kaushik Sengupta noted: “We need to engage with the employees who are part of the quality system process. Also, try to monitor the effectiveness of the training through CAPA programmes. Monitoring and assessment should be continuous. In the past one year, a lot of new standards have come up in GFSI, BRC, revisions in FSSAI version 4 and IFS revisions, and these need to be addressed in the assessment as well.”
Verification: Carry out verification tests to confirm if the product is safe to consume and to guarantee the safety of the product.
Commenting on the aspect of verification, MD, Envirocare Food Lab, Dr. Nilesh Amritkar said, “Of the 121 laboratories recognized by FSSAI, only 20 per cent have the capacity to conduct various tests mandated in the food safety regulations. There has to be stringent criteria that decide the recognition of laboratories. FSSAI is a regulatory body but the regulations have to be mastered by the industry, the laboratories and the consumers themselves. FBOs need to partner with the laboratories in the growth of a nation.”
Packaging and labelling safety: Packaging has a vital role to play in ensuring that products reach consumers in a safe condition. Packaging should be food safe and should have all mandatory information – from ingredients, product formulation as well as any allergen risks – pre-printed on the label.
Software of Quality Management Systems for Ensuring Food Safety
The most important aspect of food safety is largely behavioural in nature. Achieving food safety success often requires more than a thorough understanding of the food science and the processes involved because unsafe behaviour makes unsafe food. Creating a behaviour-based food safety management system or food safety culture can optimize the efficacy of food safety programmes and processes.
According to Chief General Manager – Quality and Legal Compliances, Patanjali, Atul K. Joshi, “All manufactures follow GFSI standards but what is different in our case at Patanjali, it is the work culture. It’s driven by the vision of Baba Ramdev and Acharya Balkrishna, which they personally communicate to the last employee through engagement programmes. This encourages the employee engagement culture in the organization. Quality is a culture, food safety is a culture and a culture will only succeed when it percolates down to the execution level and the last employee has imbibed that and is involved.”
Focus on execution compliances: “If there is a gap between the standard requirement and what is executed at the shop floor, then there will be gap in the quality and food safety. When there is no gap it means consistent quality every day. The three pillars of execution compliance are, ‘Plant, People and Process’. All our plants are GMP hygiene approved; we undertake hazard analysis and risk-based preventive controls, rigorously train our employees and are responsive to customer feedback. Building capacity and capability through education and training is an area of focus and we are already looking ahead by training them under US FDA regulations to keep pace with the evolving food safety aspects,” informed Joshi.
According to GM – Quality Assurance, Hardcastle Restaurants (McDonald’s West & South India), Vinay Hastak, “Quality systems, training, processes and procedures are the minimum basic pillars without which we can’t deliver safe quality products to our consumers. At McDonald’s, we primarily depend on preventive measures across the value chain by establishing priorities based on risk analysis and efficacy in risk management and use modern technology to build a failsafe mechanism to make up human failures.”
Buttressing the point made by Hastak, Shalini Chakravorty observed: “We should also appreciate the need to build the manufacturing units, quality control mechanisms and processes with foresight and thinking ahead of the time, factoring in the changes in law in future. That will give the much needed competitive edge.” She said that it is also very important to set the tone from the top in order to build a culture of quality and food safety. “That will set the right direction for the organization and build the much needed quality culture.”
The panellists concluded that an effective strategy for ensuring food safety is to adopt a preventive approach at all stages of the food chain. This can be done through the application of good practices, i.e., good agricultural practices (GAP), good manufacturing practices (GMP), good hygienic practices (GHP) and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point system (HACCP) at the production stages. Taking these steps can prevent and mitigate the food risks.
Rounding off the session, Chakravorty said: “Food safety objectives cannot be fully realised without the cooperation and active participation of all stakeholders: farmers, processors, retailers and regulatory authorities across the value chain.”