Food safety in India: a collective responsibility

Increased consumer awareness and regulatory focus have transformed India’s approach to food safety. Changing reforms continue to play an important role in shaping the industry to ascertain the procurement, provision and production of food products in order to meet the highest standards of safety and hygiene.

While there have been discussions on robust food safety management, measures need to be taken in practicality to tackle issues such as product recalls, adulteration and many more, and determine a healthy environment. To gauge the pulse of the food regulator and the industry experts, our Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services team recently hosted sessions on ‘Food Safety and Compliance’ in Mumbai and Chennai . The sessions covered aspects of global trends in food safety landscape, corporates demystifying changing consumer preferences, challenges and leading practices.

In his introductory note, Arpinder Singh, Partner and Head – India and Emerging Markets, Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services highlighted that food safety compliance programs in India can be reinforced by adhering to optimum standards of quality. He added that organizations need to improve their reporting to the food regulator for higher compliance and also mentioned that the consumption of safe food is a shared responsibility.

Pawan Kumar Agarwal, CEO, Food Safety and Standards authority of India (FSSAI) emphasized on the importance of the State Government’s role in achieving food safety compliance. He addressed the audience in Mumbai saying that regular third party audits for businesses could help in supplementing their capabilities and increasing compliance. While the regulators are addressing risks by introducing and enforcing various policies and reforms, organizations also need to act responsibly by conducting training for employees to convey the significance of quality food and the consequences of non-compliance.

While Dr. M.Kannan, Deputy Director and Ms. K.K.Jitha, Assistant Director, FSSAI threw light on the various compliance initiatives that have been taken by the food regulator at the session in Chennai. They also elaborated current food import systems and the risk based sampling of imported products.

The use of technology through automated systems for better food safety management was a key area of discussion and EY’s Food Act Compliance Tool was also launched at the session. This technology-based solution can enable organizations to record and manage regulatory compliances for relevant jurisdictions at a batch level of the products being produced and placed into the market. It can also provide assistance in identifying conformances and non-conformances on a periodic basis and enhance preparations for potential regulatory inspections.

Subsequently, Pinakiranjan Mishra, Partner and National Leader, Retail and Consumer Products and Raghu Guda, Director, Fraud Investigation & Dispute Services shared their experiences with the attendees at the session. While Pinkiranjan highlighted an increasing shift toward self-compliance and risk based controls in the retail and consumer products space; Raghu stressed on potential risks across the supply chain and use of technology to mitigate them. The use of latest technologies such as Robotics Process Automation can help Food Business Operators (FBOs) manage costs and improve quality by automating routine tasks.

The session concluded with an interactive panel discussion on ‘Food Safety in India – Industry and regulators’ highlighting that the success of food safety initiatives will depend on collaboration of all stakeholders in the ecosystem – organizations, regulators and consumers. Dr. Pallavi Darade, IRS, Commissioner of Food Safety, Food and Drugs Administration, Maharashtra expressed that organizations must raise their compliance standards and work closely with the State Governments to address risks. Ms. Madhavi Das, Chief Management Services Officer, FSSAI discussed the industry’s positive transition from a stage of being just ‘tools’ in the food safety compliance process, to becoming an enabler.

The sessions unanimously highlighted that FBOs and regulatory bodies need to be united in their commitment to fight unsafe practices in the food business. This can be deterred by strengthening the current food compliance framework and deploying technology to automate processes. In the years to come, harmonization of Indian food standards with international ones is expected to facilitate strong quality and safety parameters on variety of products, thus benefiting the entire food ecosystem.

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