Karela Fry

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The snack-pal bill

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TOI reports:

The next time you visit your favourite chai, pani puri or bhel puri stall, or any other small-time food seller, don’t be surprised to see the vendors sport aprons and hand gloves. For, according to the new Food Safety Act, hawkers, food vendors and temporary stall owners must follow minimum standards of food safety or pay a maximum fine of Rs 1 lakh.

The new Central Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006, replaces the existing Prevention of Food Adulteration Act; the State Food Safety Act came into effect in Maharashtra from August 5, 2011.

Besides, to enforce quality control of eatables sold in the state, the government is in the process of setting up a dedicated helpline. “The helpline is aimed at ensuring public participation in the drive,” said Patil. “Citizens can call on the number and get their problems heeded to by the FDA officials.”

According to the new rule, a suspect food sample seized by officials will be forwarded to the food testing laboratories and reports will have to be delivered within 14 days. “If the sample is not according to the standards, penalty will be imposed on the offender,” the minister said.

Gloves are useful only if they are cleaner than hands. I’ve seen food vendors first put on the gloves and then use gloved hands to do things that remind you of the famous scene from Delhi Belly.

This is a well-meaning piece of legislation, which can become a case study in the fallacy of such laws. Food safety can improve for certain only if you and I consistently boycott food which falls below a certain quality line. This line is set by economics and need, and we do it already: we do not habitually eat at places which make us sick. Legislating silly things like gloves will not improve food safety: it will just make law breakers where there were none before. It is much more important to have the kind of inspection and testing which the second half of the news item describes.

However, the parts of the law regarding inspection and testing are not being implemented in time, according to Food and Beverages News:

[T]asks as small as redesignation of food inspectors working in the FDA and municipal corporations as food safety officers have not been completed satisfactorily. While some of these officers are awaiting the official notification, others are constrained by the new criteria for appointment such as educational qualification that are different than the earlier law – Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, 1954. The result being in many cities and towns, the officials concerned are not able to discharge duties such as testing of samples.

In this regard, it has been learnt that though the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had earlier sent a letter to all food safety commissioners in the states and union territories confirming the appointment of food inspectors employed by municipal corporations / councils as the food safety officer (FSO) and designated officers (DO) under the new Act, inspectors in many municipal corporations are still awaiting a formal communication from the food safety commissioners of their region.

The best intentions of law makers can be thwarted in the execution.


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