Monday 2 January 2012

Understanding Food Safety & Standards Act for processed & packaged food

January 02, 2012

Changing lifestyles, growing income of the middle-class and rising production of fruits, vegetables and milk, are turning north India, comprising Punjab, Haryana and Himachal Pradesh and parts of Jammu & Kashmir, into hub of the food processing industry.

Financial incentives from Himachal Pradesh and Haryana and liberal policies of the Punjab Government have helped attract big players to this region. In addition, a large number of local brands have also strengthened their hold over the market. The Indian food market is set to more than double by 2025. The market size for the food consumption category in India is expected to grow from US$155 billion in 2005 to US$344 billion in 2025 at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.1 per cent.

Investment target
In India, the food processing industry is one of the largest in terms of production, consumption and export prospects. The government has set an investment target of Rs 1,00,000 crore for the food processing sector by 2015. This is expected to almost double the country’s presence in the global food trade to three per cent. The investments of one lakh crore, as estimated by the government will, undoubtedly, catapult the growth of this sector, and put it at the higher growth trajectory.

Among the emerging business avenues and growth options in the diverse Indian agribusiness sector, the food-processing sector is particularly promising and is undoubtedly one of the largest potential markets for processed foods. The segments with the largest growth potential for processing are dairy, fruits and vegetables, wine, confectionery, poultry, convenience food and drinks and milk products. Products that have growing demand in the export market are pickles, chutneys, fruit pulp, canned fruits and vegetables, concentrated pulps and juices, dehydrated vegetables and frozen fruits and vegetables along with processed animal-based products.

As India is world's third-largest producer of agricultural products and large production base for a variety of raw materials covering food crops, commercial crops and fibres. Due to India’s diverse agro-climatic conditions, it has a wide-ranging and large raw material base suitable for food processing industries. Presently a very small percentage of these are processed into value-added products. And demand for processed / convenience food / ready-to-cook / ready- to-eat is constantly on the rise. Moreover, urbanisation and nuclear families are becoming the norm.

Market size
The market size for the processed foods is bound to increase from Rs 4,600 bn ($102 bn) to Rs 13,500 bn (US$330 bn) by 2014-15, assumed to grow at 10%, and the share of the value-added products in processed foods will grow from Rs 2,800 bn (US$44 bn) to Rs 5,700 bn, growing at the rate of 15%. The growth witnessed by the sector in the last decade and further improvement in growth rate expected in the years to come, presents innumerable opportunities for investment.

Keeping all these developments and market growth in view, it is of grave importance that there should be necessary steps undertaken for the safety of these packaged & processed foods. The government has already taken a step by increasing the quality level & standards / parameters for this category of food (Regulation Act for 2011 duly attached). But the major issue is implementing these standards. However, there are a couple of important things that we could keep in our minds while purchasing / using any packaged / processed food. All packaged foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a use-by or 'best before' date stamped on the box, wrapper or bottle. This date gives you an idea of how long the food will last before it loses quality. A product will remain fresh and of good quality right up to the 'best before' date (and sometimes beyond) if it is properly stored, both at home and at the supermarket.

Foods with a shelf life of less than two years must have a 'best before' date. It may still be safe to eat those foods after the 'best before' date, but they may have lost quality and some nutritional value.

Foods that should not be consumed after a certain date for health and safety reasons, such as a ready-to-eat chilled lasagne, must have a 'use-by' date. An exception is bread, which can be labelled with a 'baked on' or 'baked for' date if its shelf life is less than seven days.

Manufacturers err on the side of caution
Manufacturers usually choose a 'best before' date well before the time when the food would be expected to deteriorate and spoil. A conservative 'best before' date is designed to encourage you to eat the product while it is fresh and at its best, so you should consider 'best before' dates as a guide only. Frozen and canned products, in particular, tend to keep their quality for some time after the 'best before' date has expired. Within reason, provided the food looks and smells as you would expect, it should be safe to eat, even if the 'best before' date had passed.

Foods need proper storage
Whether or not a product keeps fresh and edible right up to the use-by or 'best before' date depends on how it is stored. Many foods need to be kept at certain temperatures, either in the fridge or freezer. For instance, fresh milk needs to be refrigerated. If a carton of milk is left out on the kitchen bench, it will quickly sour, regardless of its 'best before' date.

Check the packaging
Foods can become spoiled well before their use-by or 'best before' date, either because their packaging has been damaged or they were not stored properly at the supermarket. When buying foods, check for dents, leaks and tears in the packaging. If you can see any sign of damage, do not buy the product, as it might be contaminated with bacteria. Many products, such as dairy foods, need to be kept at a low temperature to avoid spoilage. Do not buy any foods that need to be chilled or frozen if they are sitting on unrefrigerated shelves, or stacked in overfilled fridges.

Collect cold and frozen foods last
When shopping, collect your cold and frozen foods last of all. These foods could spoil before their 'best before' date if they are allowed to get warm. It is often best to keep them in a cooler bag while travelling home. As soon as you arrive home with your groceries, put away your cold and frozen foods first.

Things to remember
'Best before' dates give you an idea of how long foods will last before they lose quality.
Most products will last beyond their 'best before' date if they are stored properly.

(The author is founder, chairman & CEO, Himalya International Ltd)       


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