Check quality of drinking water in hotels, FSSAI told

Check quality of drinking water in hotels, FSSAI told

File photo for representation.

The lawmakers have asked the Indian food safety regulator to carry out periodic inspection of ordinary drinking water being served in hotels, restaurants and other eating joints to ensure that potable quality water is being served to the customer.

The Indian food safety law currently only mandates the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India to check the quality of “packaged drinking water” leaving the non-bottled drinking water being served in small and medium-sized restaurants outside the quality net.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health has now asked the FSSAI to undertake timely inspection of the water provided in the food business premises such as eating outlets to ensure that the joints provide clean drinking water to its customers.

In its report submitted in both Houses of the Parliament on Thursday, the panel suggested a change a definition of food to include potable and drinking water as well so that food business operators couldn’t take advantage of the loophole in the law.

The committee, headed by Samajwadi Party leader Ramgopal Yadav, also asked the regulator to have a stringent approach on the use of food colour.

“The use of food dyes has to be regulated because time and again, the food dyes have been linked to health problems. Excessive use of colouring matter in food may cause allergic reaction to some people or hyperactivity in sensitive children,” it said in the report.

The food authority should ensure that the artificial colouring matter used in food meets the strict food safety requirements, it says, adding that use of dyes above the prescribed limit or use of non-permitted colours should both be punishable and stringent action should be taken against the operators involved in this practice.

Since the law is silent on whether a food should be declared “unsafe” or “sub-standard” if the use of dye is above the prescribed limit, the Standing Committee recommended a review and subsequent correction of the law as well.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 200 diseases are spread through contaminated food ranging from diarrhoea to cancers.

South East Asia has the second highest burden of food borne diseases after Africa. It is estimated that two million deaths occur every year from contaminated food or drinking water.

The government’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme shows food poisoning as one of the commonest outbreaks reported in 2017 apart from acute diarrhoeal disease.

While there were 312 cases of the diarrhoeal diseases out of 1649 disease outbreaks reported till the third week of December 2017, as many as 242 episodes were due to food poisoning. The incidences diarrhoea and food poisoning is high in places where food is cooked in bulk such as canteens, hotels and wedding venues.

Union Health Ministry officials informed the MPs that food-borne illnesses are a greater health burden comparable to malaria, HIV/AIDS or tuberculosis. The root cause of these diseases and deaths is unsafe, contaminated food and water.

Because of poor food safety standards, the government in 2006 brought the Food Safety and Standards Act to replace nearly a dozen existing regulations. The authority was set up two years later and the law became operational from August, 2011.

Seven years later, the Parliamentarians recognised that there were several flaws in the law that need to be corrected, the authority needed to staffed better and testing infrastructure required a boost for effective implementation of the law. Its budget also needs to be increased rather than being slashed, which was the case in 2018-19.

Indian food safety regime is well below the international benchmarks in terms of availability of desired lab infrastructure, food safety institutions, regulatory policies, manpower (technical & non-technical) and financial resources.

A survey by two industry bodies demonstrated that about one-third of the industry is unaware about the Food Safety Act and its regulations.

“This lack of information among the food suppliers, sellers and buyers is one of the major challenges in the present food safety regime. It is the obligation and duty of the State to spread awareness on food safety and quality and ensure that food borne diseases don’t go unreported. A robust overhaul of the current food safety regime is needed so that the food law is implemented both in letter and spirit,” the committee said in its report.

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