Introduction

Various food products are imported in India from different countries. To ensure safe imported food is made available to consumers, Authorised Officers are appointed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (hereinafter referred to as “FSSAI”) to check the imported food articles at various ports. Importers of food have to comply with various norms to make sure the imported food gets clearance.

Primarily, section 25 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 contains provisions relating to import of food articles in India and states that

“No person shall import into India –

  1. any unsafe or misbranded or sub-standard food or food containing extraneous matter;
  2. any article of food for the import of which a licence is required under any Act or rules or regulations, except in accordance with the conditions of the licence; and
  3. any article of food in contravention of any other provision of this Act or of any rule or regulation made thereunder or any other Act.”

Further, for the purpose of streamlining the process of clearance of food in an efficient and transparent manner, the FSSAI has notified the Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 on March 9, 2017 laying down provisions for import of food in India and packaging and labelling of such imported food items. Various provisions that are contained in the Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 are as follows:

1. License/Registration required for import of food

  • All food importers have to possess an Import Export Code to import food into India.
  • Food importers have to get registered with the Director General of Foreign Trade. 
  • Food importers have to obtain an import license from the Central Licensing Authority in accordance with the provisions of the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011.

2. Shelf Life of Imported Food

Shelf life of a food article is the period between the date of manufacture of such food and the “Best Before” or “Date of expiry”, whichever is earlier, as printed on the label. Only food articles which have a valid shelf life of not less than 60% at the time of import of such food will be cleared by customs.

If imported food articles have shelf life of less than 7 days, the importer has to submit application for issuance of provisional no-objection certificate to the customs. Thereafter, the Authorised Officer[1] shall communicate to the customs along with no-objection certificate if the food articles conform to the required standard.

3. Packaging and Labelling of Imported Food

All imported food have to be packaged and labelled in accordance with Labeling and Packaging Regulations, 2011. Also, the following compliances the Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 are to be adhered to:

  • All food articles are to be transported or stored in optimal storage conditions of temperature and hygiene, packaged and labeled as per regulations applicable to that particular article of food.
  • In case multiple foods or foods falling under different categories are packed in a single container or carton or pallet or skid, then the foods are to be packed in such a manner that they are accessible for inspection and sampling.
  • Food importers may make rectification on the labels of imported food articles only in respect of the following information:
  • Name and address of the importer
  • Logo and license number of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India
  • Non-veg or Veg Logo
  • Category or sub-category along with generic name, nature and composition for proprietory food

Such rectification may be made at the custom bound warehouse by affixing a single non-detachable sticker or by any other non-detachable method next to the principal display panel. Upon rectification, an inspection will be conducted by the Authorised Officer and if he is satisfied, may draw two samples. If the food importer fails to rectify the permissible defects, the Authorised Officer shall refuse clearance of such imported food imported articles by issuing a non-conformance certificate.

4. Food Sampling and Analysis:

  • If the Authorised Officer is satisfied that the Food Importer has complied with the provisions of Labeling and Packaging Regulations, 2011 and have valid balance shelf life, the Authorised Officer or his representatives shall draw two parts of food sample from the imported articles of food in the customs area in the presence of Food Importer or his Custom House Agent for testing the samples. Consignment of food articles which do not comply with  the provisions of Labeling and Packaging Regulations, 2011 at the visual inspection  will be rejected and  no sample shall be drawn from such consignment.
  • The samples drawn will be sealed and the label of the sealed sample of imported articles of food shall bear the following information:
  • Code number of the sample;
  • Date and place of collection;
  • quantity of sample;
  • Name of articles of food and category as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations-2011.
  • Name and quantity of preservative added while drawing the sample, if any;
  • Name and signature of the Food Importer or his Custom House Agent and;
  • Name and signature of the sender with official seal.
  •  
  • One part of the sealed and labelled sample shall be forwarded to the food analyst and the other part shall be stored by the Authorised Officer or his representative. The food analyst shall analyse such sample and intimate to Authorised Officer whether such food is conforming or non-conforming.

5. No objection Certificate/ Non-conformance Certificate:

The Authorised Officer may issue a no-objection certificate or a non-conformance certificate;

  • If the food articles satisfy all necessary provisions and are eligible for import, the Authorised Officer shall issue a ‘no-objection certificate’ to the food importer permitting the import of such food. The no-objection certificate is valid for 30 days  from receipt by the importer within which the food importer has to take out the food article from the customs area.
  • If the food article are not to be cleared for import, then the Authorised Officer shall issue ‘non-conformance’ report to the food importer specifying the grounds of refusal of import.

6. Risk based framework

The Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 provide for a risk based framework under which FSSAI may review risks associated with articles of food imports from time to time, besides adopting a risk based inspection process. Steps that may be taken in furtherance to the risk based framework by FSSAI include identification of laboratories in exporting countries for prior testing of food samples before the articles of food are imported into India and entering into entering into a memoranda of understanding with relevant agencies in exporting countries for accelerated clearance of food imports from the countries to facilitate ease of doing business. FSSAI may issue food alert notifications, including time bound prohibition on articles of food or prohibiting source or recalls, based on the risk associated with the articles of food.

Takeaway:

The Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 thus lays down a comprehensive procedure for clearance of imported food products into India, and at the same time ensures a procedure for effective inspection and analysis of food articles to ensure that health of consumers is not compromised.