FSSAI aims to regulate distribution of surplus food from restaurants

Aiming to regulate the collection and distribution of surplus food from hotels and restaurants, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued a notice calling for suggestions, views and comments from the World Trade Organisation’s sanitary and phytosanitary (WTO-SPS) committee members on the draft regulations.

The draft notice also put out the definition, responsibilities of food business operators (FBOs) and surplus food distribution organisations and labelling regulations. Besides, it also talked about punishment for non-adherence of the regulations.

Surplus food has been described as any leftover, unused portions of safe food that have not been served to the customers.

Explaining the handling of surplus food by the FBOs, the notice stated, “Surplus food handed over to food distribution organisations should be safe and segregated in to perishable and non-perishable items and be packed properly to avoid contamination during handling and storage.”

“Both the perishable and non-perishable surplus food be stored in hygienic condition at optimum temperature to ensure their safety, and the food donor should give an advance notice to food distribution organisations to ensure the timely distribution and consumption of food within its shelf life,” it added.

Commenting on the importance of handling surplus food properly, an official from FSSAI informed, “Food wastage is taken very seriously in developed countries. Food wastage and starvation in India is a problem, and has become important issue in recent times. To curb the wastage this move has been taken.”

“Surplus food provided to the needy by the distribution organisation is required to follow the hygiene and food safety regulations mentioned in the draft, and any complaint received regarding its enforcement will be taken seriously,” he added.

Giving more information about handling and distribution of surplus food by the food distribution organisation, the notice stated, “Surplus food picked up from the FBO’s facility should be packed in clean and covered containers, and it shall have the required date markings, namely the pick-up date and the use-by date of the food.”

“It shall be stored and transported in the appropriate hygienic conditions and at the appropriate optimum temperature. Insulated containers and ice packs, if necessary, may be used to maintain the food temperature during handling and transportation. The vehicle used for transportation should be cleaned on a regular basis and shall not be used for purposes other than delivering food,” it added.

“Surplus food should be distributed and served to the needy before the expiry or until the food is fit for human consumption, and the food that is not fit for consumption should be put in a container marked food for disposal,” the notice said.

“When a refrigerator is used for storage of surplus food, it should be cleaned once a week and should be maintained below seven degree Celsius. The storage area should be well sealed to prevent the entry of pests and a pest control programme shall be followed,” it added.

“All employees or volunteers who work with distribution organisations should maintain personal hygiene and training in health and personal hygiene will be imparted to them. No person shall come into contact with food during any illness,” the notice stated.

Robin Hood Army is a volunteer-based organisation with chapters in 42 cities. It works to get surplus food from restaurants across to the less fortunate people. It has welcomed the directions issued by the apex regulator.

Sanchit Jain, the organisation’s founding member and head of expansion team, said, “ We welcome the move, as somewhere there is a lack of awareness, and with this, there is an attempt to take up the problem and find a solution.”

“Talking about Robin Hood Army, we take a lot precaution from our side to ensure the quality of the food we serve,” he added.

Speaking about the hygiene aspects, Jain said, “The packaging material or container used for the storing food is done properly, so there is no spoilage. We do not store the food and distribution is done within an hour of collection.”

“We have two core rules. Firstly, we don’t take money, and secondly, we are very conscious when it comes to the quality of the food. Even though the food is used for charity purposes, we make sure that it is not old or stale food,” he added.

Meanwhile, the draft also prescribed the labelling requirements of donated food. It stated that pre-packaged foods shall bear complete labels, containing the name of the item/food, the manufacturer information, the list of ingredients and the date of expiry.

The donated prepared food shall be labelled with the name of the food, the source of the food, the date of preparation, the last date of consumption and the nature of the food (i e vegetarian or non-vegetarian). Also, the information on the label should not be masked in any manner.

The draft also mentioned constituting a committee for the monitoring the enforcement of these regulations in the states.

It said, “The commissioner of the state/Union Territory (UT) will constitute a monitoring committee at the state/UT level. It will consist of two members from state enforcement, one representative from the department of consumer affairs of the respective state, one member from a non-governmental organisation (NGO), one representative from a food distribution organisation, one representative from an industry association and other relevant stakeholders.”

“The said committee shall monitor and make recommendations for the improvement of the operation, may issue guidelines for the collection and retrieval of food and will also specify the time before the expiry, at which food shall be segregated,” the draft added.

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