In a first for India, packaged food items may soon be recalled if found to be lacking seriously in safety standards, as the government is preparing draft guidelines, expected in a month, to deal with the issue.
Concerned over the existence of fake and adulterated food products that do not conform to the norms, the Food Safety and Standards Authority with the ministry of health is coming up with suitable quality parameters to force a recall of contaminated items.
"We are expecting the first draft in a month. Once this is functional, we will ask the manufacturers to recall all the contaminated products," FSSA chairman P I Suvrathan said in New Delhi on the sidelines of a conference.
Once the norms are in place, a manufacturer needs to inform the authority if his products are vastly out of sync with the quality parameters set by the body, Suvrathan said.
The authority will also raise the alarm bells about a product on its own if the item does not conform to the guidelines.
In each case, the authority, considering the gravity of the situation, will recommend a recall of products within a stipulated period, he explained.
To provide further impetus to the safety standards, the authority will put in place a mechanism by 2010 to scrutinise all imported items to avoid the inflow of any products that do not conform to the Indian standards.
"By 2010, we will have a resonably good safety action plan to check the imported items. . . The present system of scrutinising such items needs to be revamped drastically," Suvrathan said.
Currently, India does not have a full-proof system to review the inflow of all imported products, he added.
With the new guidelines, the authority will set up a panel of scientists to gauge the risk factor associated with the imported items and act accordingly, he said.
The necessity of scrutinising imported items seems to have assumed more prominence recently after the contaminated milk products from China caused some deaths within the communist country itself.
The authority has also asked few large milk producers as well as manufacturers of such products to submit an action plan by February explaining how safety standards will be set with regard to the dairy products, Suvrathan said.
Speaking at a conference in New Delhi on Tuesday, the FSSA chairman said the authority is also assessing norms prevalent in other countries and will improve on the domestic standards accordingly.
To enhance the compliance of safety standards, the authority will push for doubling the number of testing labs to 600.
However, Suvrathan did not comment on the time frame within which it will be done.
Though the authority will initially attempt to persuade all concerned to adhere to the safety standards, it also prescribes a penalty of Rs 500,000 and imprisonment up to 15 years for the guilty in case of a death due to the consumption of the contaminated product.
Similarly, up to Rs 300,000 will be fined for causing serious injury and an amount not exceeding Rs 100,000 for other minor injuries, he said.