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Spiralling Growth in Testing, Inspection and Certifications
Monday, 06 May, 2019, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Dr Tahir Sufi
The concern for food safety dates back to thousands of years. There is an evidence that ancient Egyptians developed storage tanks to hold grain harvested from the fields for preventing the grains from spoiling. Similarly, pickling, fermenting, drying, salting, canning of food was introduced for enhancing the food shelf life. In 18th century, two major advancements brought the new revolution in food processing by the introduction of refrigeration system and the use of chemical analysis by the Department of Agriculture of USA to monitor the safety of agricultural products (US Food & Drugs, 2019).

Genetically-modified and organic foods
Over the time, the food processing industry witnessed lots of innovation when by the new ideas like use of microwave, high-pressure processing (HPP), use of preservatives (chemical additives), food irradiation, and now the use of nanotechnology, and use of genetically- modified and organic foods.

However, with advancements in food processing and preparation, the demand for food testing, inspections and certifications is also increasing. Several factors have led to the growth of  food certification and testing industry. The first of such factors is rising consumer awareness about food safety in terms of prevention from foodborne diseases, harmful effects of pesticides and food adulterants and so on. There is a paucity of research studies in identifying the major concerns of consumers about the food safety, especially in India.

Exporting agro and dairy products
However, there is no doubt that problems like food adulteration are rampant in our country.  At times, it can be so extreme that it can cost the lives of the people. Adulteration does not only risk the lives of people; it causes tremendous losses to the national economy as well. India has tremendous opportunities in terms of exporting agro and dairy products. It is expected therefore that this industry is regulated through rigorous testing, inspections and certifications.

It looks like a distant dream due to the lack of basic infrastructure in our country. According to a newspaper report, problems faced by 40 food processing units is forcing farmers and industrial units to travel to Chandigarh to get the food items tested. The cost of getting the food items tested also poses yet another challenge to these farmers. Despite having a strong regulatory framework of food safety through recently established FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India), India is struggling to enact the food safety norms. Under the present system of food safety, police cannot handle FSSA as only food safety inspectors are authorised to do so. According to a report dated July 1, 2018, the low conviction rate of the offenders (1,591 out of 80,463) in 2016-17 speaks volumes about the problems in our country.

Fulfilling regulatory requirements
The low consumer confidence arising from the media has provided opportunity to the food certification business in India. Certifications like ISO 22000 / HACCP and so on are indication that food processing, catering, restaurant or hotel has ensured food safety, policies and the requirements to ensure the food that is safe to consume. While as ISO 22000 certification provides food processing units a systematic method for analysing food processes, determining possible hazards and designating the critical points. Along with the benefits of covering such crucial risks, it helps the organisations in fulfilling the regulatory requirements.

Such third-party certification (or third-party verification) assures customers about the food production process and thereby validate the food safety of the organisation. The food safety certification used to be a voluntary process earlier. However, the new FSSAI guidelines have made it mandatory for the entire food operator to be FSSAI registered or licensed irrespective of the nature of the food processing operations - manufacturing, storage, transportation or distribution of food products. The nature and size of business determines if FSSAI registration or FSSAI licence may be required.  

India Organic Certification
The demand for organic food is ever increasing. The economic affluence has led to sizeable chunk of urban Indians to suffer from several health-related complications, which is driving such consumers towards organic food. Special food items like organic food are required to have special certification “India Organic Certification” that is given to such products after validation ensuring that the products or raw materials used in production of the food were grown through organic farming - without the use of any chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides or hormones.

The testing centres accredited by the Agricultural and Processed Food Export Development Authority (APEDA) issue this certification. The database of the organic food available in India is listed on FSSAI website. All such proactive measures make it clear that India too acknowledges the importance of trust of consumers on organic food labelling. However, at the same time, the rigorous certification process is posing challenge to the farmers who consider it as a barrier to access the organic market. The certification provided by third-party involves lots of paperwork related to registration and maintaining paperwork that makes the certification process a cumbersome chore.

Considering the discussion above, we can conclude that the scope of food testing, inspection, and certifications is going to increase as the level of consumer awareness of food safety in terms of being hygienic, nutritious and free from toxic chemicals is increasing as ever. The food safety regulatory environment in India is also becoming more stringent - however, the limited number of food testing labs across the country is becoming a major obstacle for food processing units. Issues as such need to be given a priority by the state and Central governments who have a major role to play in restoring credibility among consumers.

(The author is professor & head, Department of Hotel Management, Graphic Era Deemed to be University, Dehradun. He can be contacted at
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