FOOD SAFETY – A NON NEGOTIABLE RIGHT
FOOD SAFETY – A NON NEGOTIABLE RIGHT
Author: Rumi Saikia & Naynika Kandula Read time: 7min 48 secs
Up until a few decades ago, food choices were quite limited. You could count the total brands in the market on your fingertips, and the high price sensitivity amongst consumers meant that decision about which product to buy was very dependent on the price. As time has gone by, the world has realized that there are large and significant side effects to not being mindful about the food on our plates. From obesity and malnutrition to cancer, a lot of the worlds’ health problems are a result of the food we consume. Today, we find many more people in supermarkets, studying the ingredients labels, doing quick google searches to find out if ingredients are gluten free or not and going out of their way to find brands and companies that suit their needs and fit into their idea of safe food. To bring even more awareness and promote this growing trend further, the WHO has marked the 7th July to be the World Food Safety Day. On this occasion, we are trying to draw attention and inspire action to help prevent, detect and manage foodborne risks, contributing to food security, human health, economic prosperity, agriculture, market access, tourism and sustainable development.
WHO has listed the following six calls to action, and we are proud to share that Safe Harvest currently follows and works towards promoting all of the points mentioned. Here is how:
Grow it safe - Agriculture and food producers need to adopt good practices
While the green revolution brought with it the assurance of food safety, it also introduced Indian agriculture to chemical pesticides in farming. With lack of information and misleading instructions from pesticide traders, Indian farmers spray much larger amounts of chemical pesticides on their crops than recommended. This leads to several of our food products having residues much higher than the permissible limits. Ranging from cancer to harm on reproductive health, the long term effects of consuming pesticide ridden foods is a list that keeps increasing.
Farmer welfare is an integral part of our mission at Safe Harvest. While we help increase their incomes through providing stronger market linkages, we help them reduce health hazards at their farms by encouraging them to shift to natural pesticides instead of chemicals. All of the 1,00,000 small farmers that are associated with us today, practice NPM (Non Pesticide Management) farming methods on their field which involves making their own natural pesticides using neem, compost, cow urine etc. We conduct timely training sessions with the farmers and update them about the NPM methods, all to ensure that only the safest food reaches your plates.
Ensure it’s safe - Government must ensure safe and nutritious food for all
In random tests done across metropolitan cities in India, it was found that most food - including a few brands that claim to be 100% organic, have pesticide residues in them. Read it here. At Safe Harvest, we guarantee you products with zero pesticide residues. We ensure this by collecting samples of our farmers’ produce before procuring them and sending them for testing against the MRL limits at FSSAI accredited laboratories. Our products are currently tested for MRLs against Jaivik Bharat standards issued by the Govt. of India which list out 127 pesticides along with their permissible residue limits. This method helps us ensure that every lot of produce that is reaching our final consumers is absolutely and entirely free from any pesticides.
Keep it safe - Business operators must make sure food is safe
For a business that advocates disuse of synthetic chemicals while growing food crops, it is only fair that we adhere to safe and natural means for our storage. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India requires business operators to ensure to maintain food safety standards in aspects of
1. Procurement of grains from Mandi
2. Transportation of the grains
3. Grain Storage and Handling
4. Blending/Quality Verification
6. Packaging and Labelling
7. Storage/Handling of finished product
While majority of the safety standards are true for conventional, organic and pesticide free food, we ensure special care in activities that make food vulnerable to chemical contact. Activities like establishment management and sanitation which requires uses of chemicals for disinfestation, allergen control, warehouse cleaning and hygiene and pest control are specially monitored and carried out under completely bio-friendly techniques. Some pest-management activities like fumigation are avoided altogether.
Our implementation ISO 22000, which has been deemed crucial by FSSAI for any food business identifies weakness in the production line and sets critical limits for preventive and corrective measures by incorporating the widely used and proven Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) principles. With ISO 22000, not only have we set a goal to ensure not just minimization, we’ve been progressing towards complete elimination of associated hazards during production, which are
a) Elimination of physicals hazards such as straw, gum, human/animal hair, stalk, feces etc.
b) Elimination of biological risks like microorganisms and pest by application of cocoon storage.
c) Elimination of chemical hazards coming from the field level like pesticide residues and at the processing level. Keeping in line with our Non Pesticide Management principles, we refrain from any sort of chemical pest control activities like fumigation and common disinfestation methods.
Eat it safe: All consumers have a right to safe, healthy and nutritious food
Depending on the market availability and living standards, consumers opt for different categories of food viz. conventional, organic or pesticide free. Regardless of their choice, they have a right to safe, healthy and nutritious food. Owing to the growing demand of food production, farmers in India use a wide range of fertilizers and pesticides. As a result, the traces of agro-chemicals used to grow food crops are often found in our food which eventually make their way into the food chain. Consumption of these toxic chemicals over the years even though in small amounts, accumulate in our body and give rise serious health implications. Contamination can happen not just from the crop fields, but also from storage areas, pest control operations and transportation.
Also, India’s food supply largely depends on small farmers. These farmers are often owners of not more than 5 acres of land who make little to no profit most of the time. To make profits, they ignore food safety means like contamination or prevention of infestation. They also lack facilities to maintain hygiene and handling, transportation standards. Lack of appropriate training and education is at the root of this.
At Safe harvest, we are constantly on the lookout for small and marginal farmers who we handhold for safe agricultural practices like use of bio-pesticides, use of bio-fertilizers such as compost, non-chemical seed treatment, watershed management etc. In addition to cultivation, our farmers are also trained for pre-procurement appropriate storage measures. To maximize their profits, we buy produce from these farmers at the market rate or higher at their own farm gates. Samples of the produce before buying is first tested in laboratories accredited by FSSAI. The Food Safety and Standards for Organic food requires all food articles to be tested for 127 chemical residues. Having tested for all requisite parameters grants us the certification that our food is safe for consumption with all nutritional values intact. All of our test reports are available for consumers to refer to on request.
Team up for safety – Food Safety is a shared responsibility
Food safety is a non-negotiable interest for both the food industry and the customers. Because of its extensive scientific and technical resources and experience with these issues, the food industry can make important contributions towards their understanding and resolution. With more technological advances, media for dissemination of information about food safety and selection have become abundant. This grants us immense responsibilities as food producers to make sure customers receive correct and timely information of what they consume. Ensuring selection of appropriate media like social media for urban dwellers and television and radio for rural dwellers to communicate is extremely important.
Customers should have access to information about every process involved in the manufacturing of their food, including the processing facilities, origin of their food, nutrition content, how to prepare, storage methods etc. Labelling is an extremely important way of letting people make informed decisions. Food regulatory bodies should levy stringent standards on the quality of food being marketed. Limits for pathogenic microorganisms, allergens, genetically modified foods, contaminants (including pesticides) should be set and made uniform across all categories of food.
Consumers’ initiative to communicate to the manufacturers, to ask questions about products as a result of information they have seen in advertising or labelling or because of their experience in using the item is highly effective in improving food quality. More often than not, consumers’ reactions are solicited by manufacturers in their advertising. Consumers’ right to question demand information is an extremely powerful tool in improving food safety.
Safe food is every individual’s right. Consumers have a right to expect that the foods they purchase and consume will be safe and of high quality. While consumers, governments and others play an important part in ensuring food safety and quality, in free-market societies the ultimate responsibility for investing the physical and managerial resources that are necessary for implementing appropriate controls lies with the food industry - the industry that continuously oversees the manufacture and processing of foods, from raw ingredients to finished product, day in and day out. As a responsible food producer, we make sure every one of these points is checked so consumers eat what they pay for.