‘Better surveillance, efficient labs helped Kerala top FSSAI national food safety index’

Kerala improves rank from sixth among large States in 2021-22 to first in 2022-23

June 09, 2023 07:42 pm | Updated 07:42 pm IST - KOCHI

Continuous monitoring of targets for collecting statutory samples and surveillance, increasing efficiency of labs, prompt disposal of public grievances, and prompt online updates helped Kerala improve its rank from sixth among large States in 2021-22 to the first in 2022-23 in the national food safety index of the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), Food Safety Commissioner V.R. Vinod has said.

Initiatives such as rating the hygiene of hotels, bakeries, juice shops, and other eateries helped give three, four and five-star rating to the kitchens of over 1,600 such establishments that were audited. Furthermore, the Eat Right Kerala app that was released recently helped people identify such certified units from among 140 circles of the Food Safety department. It helped improve the quality of food items in a market where hitherto taste and rate mattered more, he said.

Other campaigns such as Eat Right School Kerala and the one to improve hygiene of eateries at railway stations by insisting on adherence to a checklist of points, which included the source of water, too paid dividends.

The insistence on a food safety compliance system (FoSCoS), including lab results becoming 100% online, helped improve accountability and transparency. The results in turn helped garner data on the prevalence of adulteration and agricultural practices that were being followed. In addition, steps were taken to speed up analysis of food samples at labs, while FSSAI and National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories (NABL) integrated assessment of labs was completed. All that was topped with filling of vacancies of 49 food safety inspectors and surprise inspections at check-posts by a team of young and vibrant officials, said Mr. Vinod.

The department also initiated measures to speed up redressal of public grievances within a stipulated time frame. The drive to close down units that failed to obtain FSSAI licence helped further the cause of food safety, and helped the department earn over ₹18 crore.

Mobile labs termed Food Safety on Wheels were rolled out to identify adulterated food items free of cost. Kerala was the only State to have such labs in each district, said Mr. Vinod. He, however, cited the need to set up a dedicated system to speed up prosecution in over 1,700 cases registered by food safety officials.

Shamsiya M.N., a B.Tech graduate in food engineering and attached to the Kalamassery Circle of the Food Safety department in Kochi, said steps taken to ensure adherence to FoSCoS helped the FSSAI closely monitor steps taken to improve food safety in Kerala. In addition, steps were taken to enhance awareness on including millets in diet in select schools in each of the 140 circles of the department in the State.

“Our officials also reached out to units at the panchayat level, to improve hygiene. The dedicated food safety toll-free number and officers being available over phone helped Kerala earn the first rank this year. Improving the pay scale and making available vehicles for enforcement duty will help improve food safety in the State, where most districts have clean street food hubs. This is a hard-won recognition for the department, which had faced criticism from the public about a year ago following deaths due to food poisoning,” she added.

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