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SPECIAL REPORTS

Home baking and regulatory compliance challenges
Wednesday, 17 June, 2020, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Manish Veeramani
The food manufacturing sector in India is growing by leaps and bounds in an exponential manner. And this trend is set to continue with the government also identifying food sector as one of the key drivers in economy growth. This is going to lead to major investments in this sector which will finally propel this market ahead.
In the food sector, it is the bakery which is a key sector and occupies an important place in food processing industry. This sector, which is primarily or traditionally originated, can be differentiated into three broad segments of bread, biscuits and cake. Bakery products being an item of mass consumption clubbed along with rapid growth and changing eating habits of people, bakery products have gained immense popularity among masses.

The bakery industry which earlier used to be characterised by products such as cakes and breads, today has a massive range of products on offer ranging from cookies, toasts, puffs and macaroons. With better technical know-how and novel ideas this industry is growing leaps and bounds every day and moment.  

The bakery segment has matured today to a great extent. This can be attributed to primarily two basic reasons. Firstly, there has been tremendous amount of innovation which has resulted in development of tailormade products with respect to end applications.

Secondly, more and more people are taking this up as a profession which has increased job opportunities and availability of variety of products. With the consumers ready to pay premium rates it all appears to auger well towards this sector diversifying itself multi-fold in the coming years. 

However, irrespective of the demand and manufacturing processes involved, the ground reality remains that this is a largely unorganised sector. While there are some big players in this processing sector but largely this segment is dominated by local bakeries. And to add on to this we now have a huge number of people taking up baking as a profession or hobby at household levels.
While it is not possible to prepare the entire gamut of products at home the most popular ones include cakes, muffins and chocolates. Though this is a very interesting concept, there are significant challenges here with the primary one being that of ensuring compliance to regulatory requirements.
While FSSAI has very clear guidelines on the rules and regulations surrounding the bakery sector, most of the home bakers do not have knowledge about this as they are not necessarily from the food or bakery background. Some of the key challenges and possible ways to counter them are:
Compliance to the FSSAI packaging and labelling rules
FSSAI has very clear rules related to ingredient declaration, nutritional value declaration and other related information that need to be displayed on the packing materials of packed products. However, due to absence of this knowledge or lack of information many times we encounter such products which are manufactured at household level and available in the stores without labels or with labels having incorrect or insufficient information. This can have serious consequences in terms of mis-labelling and incorrect information being passed on to the consumers. Especially, critical in case of consumers, who may have some health-related issues such as diabetes and food allergies.

Control on the ingredients used
While flour, sugar and fat are the common ingredients used in any bakery including home bakery the variations come in the designs which are further enhanced using flavours and colours. And these flavours and colours are the most critical when it comes to home baking. This is also very critical when making chocolates at home. 

FSSAI is also very strict when mandating requirements for colours and flavours. They have well defined requirements for any flavour in terms of what are the ingredients that a flavour can contain and which ones they cannot. This is mainly because there are lot of overlapping chemicals between flavours and fragrances.

While it is acceptable to use ingredients used in flavours for fragrances, vice versa is nor possible neither acceptable. Hence it is imperative that the right kind of flavours are used. Also with the availability of natural flavours as well as artificial flavours, the credentials of a label stating use of natural flavours cannot be validated for such cases of home bakers.

Similarly for colours, FSSAI mandates the specification for colours being used in terms of their dye content. The home bakers in most cases may not be aware of this requirement and this might play a significant role in their choice of ingredients. Also when it comes to addition of these ingredients in the products, FSSAI states the limit as GMP which according to definition is the minimum level of addition at which the desired effect is achieved. However, validating the same as home baking level is very difficult as the perception is darker the product better it is or stronger the flavour, tastier it is.

Shelf life for the products
While most of the fresh baked products are expected to be consumed within the next few hours, the same does not apply in case of packed products. These packed products range across a shelf life from a week to a few months. While there may not be any physical impact on the product, the same cannot be considered for its inherent properties. The chemical composition combined with the usage of fat can lead to onset of rancidity which has not been evaluated. Also in the absence of preservatives the microbial counts can start to multiply to a level significant enough of causing a food infection. The same becomes more crucial in case of chocolates as they generally have a longer shelf life which is not defined basis any scientific methodology. Thus inappropriate validation for the shelf life can lead to early product deterioration eventually leading to food infections.

Use of moulds and decoration materials
One of the key material used for baking and chocolates are the moulds and the packing boxes. While it is utmost important that the moulds are made of food grade materials, at a home baking level it becomes very difficult to monitor. For home bakers the easiest option is to purchase these moulds from the local market where the food grade compliance cannot be however authenticated.

Moving over to the boxes used for decoration and handling the products, especially chocolates, the use of paper and adhesives is of prime importance. Again as the home bakers would prefer to get these materials as and when required from the local markets, this poses a significant risk in terms of product safety. This risk comes from the type of paper used which can contribute to microbial contamination or from the adhesives used which can possibly release some solvents which may get absorbed by the products inside.

So how can the home bakers get updated on these issues?
One of the easiest option is to have some self-study modules which include all requirements related to product safety and regulatory compliances initiated by FSSAI. This needs to be completed by all home bakers so that there, at least, the basic level awareness available to ensure that the products are safe.

Have some simpler mechanism like the FSSAI licensing which is very basic and just sufficient to ensure that the home bakers adhere to norms and possibly the training stated above can be a compulsory requirement under this mechanism.

Home bakers can explore the option of a group where all such bakers are a part of it and prepare a ready reckoner on the list of suppliers available adhering to these specifications for essential raw materials, packaging materials and food contact materials. 

Within the group of home bakers, there needs to be an increased awareness on food safety aspects and practices so that there is an assurance of safe products being prepared and delivered at home level as well.

As a conclusion though the concept of home baking is very enterprising in terms of job security and revenue generation, the primary focus should not get deviated from food safety. It is hence imperative that all such people involved in home baking for cakes, cookies, chocolates and so on work as a group and closely with the regulatory compliance bodies, in this case, FSSAI, to ensure that the end-product is safe from all aspects.  


(The author is technical lead - food BureauVeritas India Pvt. Ltd)
 
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