Thursday, November 26, 2009


Food retailing and catering form an important part of a country's landscape and both touch the lives of people practically every day. The fact that they have to carry out their business with an eye on profit does not absolve them of their commitment to be fair and equitable to the consumers. Governments are supposed to keep vigilance over the functioning of these sectors in order to prevent avoidable harm to the citizens due to negligence, unsafe practices and deliberate fraud on the part of the food handlers. Every retailer and caterer think that, once a license is obtained from the local authorities for operating in approved premises, nothing needs to be done further to improve the business atmosphere or better the quality of products offered. Government is shirking its responsibility by not instilling in them the discipline expected in handling food materials scientifically to avoid food related mishaps.

As a model one can look at a country like the US where the food handlers know what is expected from them which is codified in unambiguous terms. A voluntary Food Code has been existing for long and it is revised every four years incorporating new developments and knowledge in food safety field. Though it does not have any mandatory force behind, it still serves as a model code and reference document for sensitizing the retail and food service segments of the food industry for safety compliance. It is true no one forces any one to follow the guidelines strictly but many use it voluntarily as a guide while some adopt it in toto. The Food Code should provide authoritative information on time and temperature control for various foods for storage, cooking and serving to ensure they do not favor growth of harmful bacteria before reaching the consumer.

There are many gray areas in food safety information which need to be revisited by food scientists and sanitation experts for evolving a comprehensive resource and reference document for the benefit of catering industry and the retailing sector. Very few members of food trade and catering service have adequate awareness about the dangers lurking in their premises in the form of microbiological and other contamination which can affect the health of their customers. Qualified and experienced personnel are neither willing to be employed nor being employed by this industry for various reasons. A comprehensive Food Code containing a series of "do's" and "don'ts" in simple language, in English as well as regional languages, will go a long way in educating the industry to improve their service dramatically. The Food Code must contain information regarding distinguishing good food from bad ones, avoiding infestation of raw materials, favorable conditions for harmful bacteria to grow and preventive regime, food storage, tips on hygiene and sanitation, safe life periods of freshly cooked foods, etc.

Lead has to come from the Central Government in formulating such a Code for adoption and implementation in the country. The question is, who will "bell the cat" since it is a multi disciplinary job involving microbiologists, toxicologists, food scientists, catering specialists and sanitation experts. Probably an institution like CFTRI is best suited to undertake such a task for which needful, time targeted mandate has to be given by GOI. Such a task, if undertaken and completed satisfactorily in time, can be more useful to the nation than the pedestrian research being carried out during the last two decades in the name of food industry. Sooner it is done, better it will be for the country.


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