Introduction

In 2015, India’s apex food regulator, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), had ordered recall of energy drinks, Tzinga, Cloud 9, Monster Energy from the market declaring ingredients in these energy beverages were not safe.[1]  Around the same time what shook the nation was the recall of popular two-minute noodles, Maggi, produced by Swiss food giant Nestle due to high content of lead and a food additive.[2]

Until now, India has had no food recall regulations though the process for drafting such regulations started in 2011.[3] The row over the Maggi hassle triggered the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) to expedite the process and to finally come up with the Food Safety and Standards (Food Recall Procedure) Regulations, 2017. Prior to this, food recall was governed by Section 28 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006.[4] This provision is narrow and does not lay down a comprehensive process on the overall process of food recall.

Objective and scope of the Regulations:

The objective of the Regulation is to ensure removal of food under recall from all stages of the food chain, ensure dissemination of information to concerned consumers and ensure retrieval, destruction or reprocessing of food under recall. This Regulation is applicable to food or food products that are determined or prima facie considered unsafe and/or as may be specified by FSSAI from time to time. All food business operators are covered under these Regulations.

Highlights of the Regulations:

Initiation of food recall:

Food recall maybe initiated by food business operators or competent authorities may direct food business operators to initiate the same.  Recall process may also be initiated as a result of reports or complaints from any stakeholder, and the food business operator shall determine whether there is a need to recall. Upon no response from the food business operator, the complainant shall inform FSSAI who shall determine if there is a need to recall.

Recall Plan:

Manufacturers, importers and wholesale suppliers now have to maintain an up-to-date recall plan. The only exceptions are restaurants, caterers and takeaway joints unless they have multi-outlet food business chains with integrated manufacturing and distribution network.

Food recall system:

The food business operator shall maintain the food distribution records which include the names and addresses of suppliers and customers, nature of food, date of purchase, date of delivery, lot number, batch code, pack size, brand name, date of manufacture, date of expiry and best before date, and shall maintain such records for a period of one year from best before date or the expiry date, as applicable.

Communication:

The food business operators initiating a food recall have to promptly inform food business operators in the food chain including manufacturers, processors, distributors, sellers, importers and exporters. Communication should also be made to consumers in the affected area through print or electronic area.

Responsibility of food business operator

Food business operators have to act to avoid or reduce risks posed by specific batch or lot of food which they have supplied and remove such food from sale or distribution. Recovered food should be stored by food business operator and labelled as “Recalled Product Not Fit for Human Consumption”.  In addition, the food business operators also have to submit periodic status reports (weekly or otherwise specified) to FSSAI regarding the progress of the recall. They will also need to retain complete documentation on food recall for inspection by the FSSAI or State food safety commissioners. The recall may be terminated upon request of food business operator.

Takeaway:

The Regulations have exceedingly widened the scope of the recall provision in the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. However, the question still remains whether the new provisions are fool proof.  The Regulations do not speak about a traceable and transparent management system. An effective traceability system allows a food business operator to locate food articles through the food chain, since without this safeguard, food recall could be difficult, extensive and time consuming. Further, there is no timeline mentioned for communication of food recall to consumers and those involved in the food chain. Often, food is not returned to the food business operator and may be wrongfully sold or distributed. Therefore, there arises a requirement of an Incident Team to compile accurate figures on food not returned.

Despite these lacunae, the new Regulations are a welcome move. Food recall is an important link in ensuring food safety to the consumer and the Regulations ensure food recall is now backed by regulatory control. The FSSAI has introduced a systematic approach to food recall which will go a long way in providing assurance to consumer.