Mango continues to rule Kerala’s fruit market and as the season for the local varieties draws to a close and the flow from Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu begins, the question being raised is whether the flourishing market here is going through a cleaning up act.

The question comes up in what fruit sellers have claimed was a squeaky clean season during which no major cases of chemical or pathogenic contamination of fruits were registered. All Kerala Fruit Merchants’ Association claimed on Thursday that it was backing a State-wide campaign to educate sellers to ensure food safety and not to support wrong-doers.

The campaign has been on for two years, says P. V. Hamsa, president of the association. A conscientious effort is being made to ensure that buyers get what they want and not what harms their health, he says.

A food safety officer attributed the near-incident-free season to a general drive last year to detect contamination of fruits, especially of mangoes ripened using dangerous substances.

The fact remains that with the country’s food safety regime in a transitory phase, statutory samples are not being tested. However, random checks that do not enjoy legal backing are on as usual.

A food safety official says that only if statutory samples are collected, tested at public analysts’ laboratories and found wanting in any area, can cases be registered and action against erring vendors be taken.

The Food Safety and Standards Regulations 2011 under Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, which replaced a bunch of Acts such as Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954 and Fruit Products Order 1955, among others, is in its takeoff mode.

An entirely new system to ensure food safety is being established and it will take time to have a full fledged system in place, says food safety commissioner Biju Prabhakar. Meanwhile, random checks are being carried out, says the food safety officer, while pointing out that the mango season has been quiet, with no reports of contamination.

Questions have been raised about wax coating on apples, especially those imported from the United States. Food safety officers have said that wax coating is permitted. They have issued a warning against using stickers on the fruits, a practice that continues in the retail market.

A spokesman for the association of fruit sellers says that apple exporters have testified that the wax used on apples is natural and harmless. A similar claim has been made on the use of stickers, the spokesman adds.

Mr. Hamsa claims that the association has taken on the responsibility of checking the quality of fruits and the last two years have yielded good results on this front. He feels that consumers in Kerala are aware of the quality of the produce they buy and selling bad quality fruits is not a paying proposition for a vendor.

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