Srinagar: The Food Safety Department has let off hundreds of food business operators even though their products were found to be highly adulterated and in violation of the Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA).
Official sources told Kashmir Reader that the food wing of the Drug and Food Control Organisation (DFCO) has failed to confiscate unsafe and substandard food items from the market despite laboratory confirmations indicting them.
“In the last three months, no substandard food product was seized from the market even after lab confirmation,” Food Safety Officers (FSOs) revealed.
As per official data, out of 4,914 food samples tested in J&K, 1,010 samples were found to be substandard, misbranded and/or unsafe. Nearly 1,127 prosecutions were launched against violators between April 2016 and August 2017. However, in most cases the food units and vendors involved were let off after a meagre fine.
“In most of the cases, the maximum quantum of the fine was Rs 30,000, which is quite meagre for multi-crore food business units,” sources said.
They said the food items found unhygienic or violating the rules should have been seized as per the FSS Act till lab reports came.
“Lab confirmation usually takes more than a month due to staff shortage. But the food department settles the issue before that by filing simple challans against the violators, who end up paying a meagre fine. The process takes almost two to three months, and till that time, people consume all the food items sold in the market even if the lab report declares them unsafe for human consumption,” said a health department official.
The standard rule is to tell district officials about the substandard and unsafe food items and recommend their confiscation.
“The rule is not being followed, which puts people at risk,” the health official said.
Most of the unfit food items contain banned ingredients and synthetic colouring and flavouring agents, he said.
As per oncologists, researchers have found that synthetic colouring agents act as carcinogens, though these are not fully classified as yet.
“Colouring agents like Tartrazine and Corsamine which were found in food items are not permitted for use in food products, especially in spices. If they are used in smoked or grilled food, they become even more deadly,” doctors have said.
Carcinogenic colouring agents like Tartrazine and banned flavouring agents are often used in popular food items like kebabs, kanti, biryani, ice cream and milk/fruit shakes.
“Most of the food outlets were using banned colouring and flavouring agents in quantities enough for officials to seize their licences. But no prosecution was launched against them as per the Food Safety and Standards Act and Rules,” said an FSO in Srinagar.
FSOs said that many food outlets in business hub Lal Chowk were found to be using banned ingredients, including Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). MSG is a harmful flavour-enhancing agent which was found in Maggi noodles and led to its ban across India.
Deputy Commissioner, Food Safety, Irfana Ahmed said that food items cannot be seized because the rules don’t permit it.
“We can’t seize food items till the matter is decided in court. We are legally bound by certain rules. But, we ensure that proper prosecution is carried out,” she said.
“If we feel the prosecution or fine is not enough, we can now appeal to the newly-formed Food Tribunals,” she said.