Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Food officials stop testing samples
It's about a month since the much-awaited Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, has been implemented across the country, but the administrative machinery still seems to be groping in the dark due to lack of clarity in certain areas.For instance, tasks 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.
Food and Beverage News was informed by an official in Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (Parel) that at least nine food inspectors, working under the public health department, were awaiting a notification from the food safety commissioner of Maharashtra, confirming their appointment as the FSO.
Interestingly, the joint commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, Mumbai, contradicted. He said that the notification for the redesignation of food inspector as the food safety officer had already been issued. The reason why these nine inspectors are not notified could be the lack of educational qualification and training, according to him.
Let us take a look at the process of redesignation of food inspectors as the FSO or DO, which has the following riders:
It says that the FSO shall be a whole-time officer and shall possess the following qualifications:
(i) A degree in food technology or dairy technology or biotechnology or oil technology or agriculture or medicine from a recognised university, or
(ii) Any other equivalent / recognised qualification notified by the Central government, and
(iii) Has successfully completed training as specified by the Food Authority in a recognised institute or institution approved for the purpose.
Further, it is within the jurisdiction of the state government to take a decision and then issue notification after screening.
The clause on education is the bone of contention for many municipal corporations. Most of the food inspectors hold a BSc (Chemistry) degree, which was mandated in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Rules, 1955, in contrast to the currently applicable FSSA Rules, 2011, that asks for a master's degree.
The local health officer in the BMC also confirmed that its food inspectors possessed bachelor's degree in Chemistry, which was probably the reason that these inspectors had not been appointed as the FSOs.
Similar was the case with Nagpur Municipal Corporation (NMC). It appointed eight food inspectors this May and a chief food inspector last year. However, none of these have been absorbed in the Authority.
The chief food inspector in the NMC informed F&B News that he had sent a proposal to the food safety commissioner to train him last December, and another proposal in May this year to train the newly appointed food inspectors enabling them to take up their new post. However, none of them had been invited for training and the proposal was pending in the commissioner's office.
Responding to this allegation, a source in the Maharashtra FDA (Food and Drug Administration) clarified, "The food inspectors working in the NMC and also the chief food inspector were appointed in the NMC after the training for the FSO had already begun, which was in April 2010. The training organised at YASHADA (Yashwantrao Chavan Academy of Development Administration), in Pune, lasted for three months and we could not arrange for a separate training session again for these new appointees. Plus, most of the food inspectors there did not satisfy the set criteria for educational qualification."
Till the time a proper communication is not provided to the food inspectors working in the municipal corporations, they would have to complete their pending work under the PFA or restrict their job to hotel grading. They would not seize samples as they have not been given the power to prosecute under the new Act. If they are not appointed as the designated / food safety officers, they would continue to work in some other vertical of the corporation.
The question here is whether it is correct to let go an official, having years of experience, on technical grounds like qualification or lack of training? An official from the FDA feels that the inspectors could be trained to execute the FSO's job. To let them go would not be correct given the staff crunch that the country was already facing in taming adulterated food products.

Source: fnbnews