Building a ‘Test worthy’ Food Testing

This monsoon is seeing a downstream demand for ready-to-eat foods and savories. This owes to the recent spiraling test failures of leading brands like Nestle Maggi and Top Ramen among many others. Snacks being the second largest sub-segment after the biscuits, this effect of slow down might affect the whole sub-category as well. Food industry is vast-spread among organized and unorganized sectors which essentially contains both multinationals and street vendors. This industry has a direct impact on consumers’ well-being, health and livelihood needs to be watched over and closely regulated. The testing methods, amounts and sampling used has a great impact on the results. These techniques should ideally be based on proven statistical norms so that the producers are not unfairly tagged with product flaws.

Clear directive regarding ban and its repercussions are yet to be laid down for retailers and manufacturers. Due to Maggi Ban there is anxiety and confusion among the retailers in general about all processed foods. They are uncertain about stocking their goods.

State regulators can impose fines, or ban the unworthy batches of produced food product. They have a challenge of executing this process of flawless monitoring. They need to meet the accurate levels of results with their advanced and ablest laboratories. They need upgraded infrastructure and resources when a hold or ban is mandated. In a recent case involving KFC, the surveillance samples were sent to King Institute, Guindy for authenticity of trace level contaminant testing.

Concerns:

  • Adequate understanding about the ingredient quality and their growing conditions becomes essential to arrive at food quality norms. Varied soil and groundwater conditions may reflect harmful heavy metals and the beneficial minerals as well.
  • Laboratories across the country are yet to standardize their testing procedures whose outputs are critical to processed food industry. Consistency with international labs is to be considered since it ensures more internationally aligned results, which could also reflect on export markets.
  • Sample preparation from different laboratories is yet to be standardized to streamline its variations in analytical results.
  • Large processed food manufacturers might have their own testing labs and have their own means to carry tests of quality. These can be brought under standardization to reduce rejects from government approved labs. Also, government agencies can as well only monitor the testing process and be vigilant on the results that they arrive at. This gives the FSSAI approved government labs to concentrate more on quality and safety of food from smaller players in the industry that lack lab facilities.
  • Adequate qualified and trained man power to draw random samples using statistical protocols and scrutinize food.
  • Accurate and fool proof process for working on perishable foods based on the risk level involved.
  • Establishing a baseline data could be beneficial in bringing food-test to lime-light and reducing nutrient loss while the food traverses from soil to table.

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