The right to food is a fundamental human right. Food quality and safety are important aspects of this right to food. In order to draw attention to the importance of food safety that has implications on human health and economic prosperity, World Food Safety Day was observed for the first time on June 7th, 2019 by WHO in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.
World Food Safety Day 2021
World Food Safety Day is aimed at reinforcing the commitment to scale up food safety made by the Addis Ababa Conference and the Geneva Forum in 2019 under the umbrella of “The Future of Food Safety”. World Food Safety Day 2021 is to be observed on June 7, 2021, with the theme – “Safe food today for a healthy tomorrow”. The intent is to initiate an action-oriented campaign that will promote global food safety awareness and call upon countries and decision-makers, the private sector, civil society, UN organizations and the general public to take action.
Food Safety – A Concern in India
Food and Water contamination is a serious concern in India. Chandra Bhushan, former Deputy Director-General, Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) has said, “Scientific evidence has shown that contamination of food is a serious issue in India as unchecked microbial activity and the use of pesticides and antibiotics seriously compromise food safety, while consumption of junk food and other chemically-laced foods adds to the problem.”
According to CSE researchers, in 2013, about 10 per cent of deaths in India of children below 5 years were due to diarrhoea. The total burden of foodborne illnesses in the country is yet to be estimated.
One of the major reasons that are responsible for food and water contamination is the indiscriminate use of pesticides in agriculture. Such food contamination leads to long-term health effects, such as endocrine disruption, birth defects and cancer.
In addition to this, the unmet hygiene standards of highly popular street-food in India also contribute to food-borne illnesses in India.
Relevance of World Food Safety Day Amid COVID-19 outbreak
COVID-19 outbreak has drastically changed the world as we know it. The importance of hygiene and cleanliness has forced the food vendors to meet the safety and cleanliness standards. Considering the fact that there is no sure treatment for COVID-19 and even the vaccines are not completely effective on various variants that keep emerging, people are forced to take health seriously and improve their immunity. At such a time, World Food Safety Day 2021 has gained another dimension that needs to be addressed. Food safety now is not just about meeting some SDGs. It is about survival.
Food Safety at Production Level
Considering the fact that pesticides and chemical farming are largely responsible for food and water contamination, food producers need to find alternatives to these in agriculture and food production.
Organic Farming benefits the farmers in a way that it helps them improve their soil quality and water quality. A wide range of organic pesticides and fertilizers helps them secure their production and earn more value for their products considering the increased demand and low supply of organic products. These products also have health benefits for the consumers considering the absence of chemicals in them. The only drawback of the method is that it requires more manual labour, and less produce comparatively which might discourage the farmers from pursuing.
Zero Budget Natural Farming
Zero Budget Natural Farming (ZBNF) is a method of agriculture where the farmer lets nature run its course. The farmers do not need to till the soil or use any form of fertilizers or pesticides. In this method, the farmers do not have to make any form of investment except perhaps to procure seeds. Once planted, nature provides for the plant’s needs, which makes it resilient against storms or other natural calamities. It also prevents soil erosion and degradation. However, now since the seeds are chemically treated, the plants that grow from them are not adapted to sustain independently. This means that it might take a few years for farmers to actually be able to make money out of ZBNF, discouraging them to pursue the method.
It is the indiscriminate use of fertilizers and pesticides that is harmful to soil and human health. Using it in a controlled manner is not as harmful. This is where the method of Precision Farming comes into the picture. In this method, the farmer uses technology in form of Artificial intelligence, sensors and ipads/tablets/smartphones that give them information as to which element is missing from the soil, or the moisture content of the soil at a specific time. This allows farmers to use fertilizers or pesticides in a controlled manner. Precision farming is highly beneficial since it saves water use, fertilizer use and prevents soil degradation and contamination. In addition, it does not impact the quality and quantity of the produce obtained. The drawback of the technique is; it requires a substantial initial investment in the form of installation of the technology. Also, it requires the farmers to develop the skill to employ the technology accurately, which is not an easy feat for Indian farmers.
Food Safety at Consumption Level
Food Safety does not end at the level of production. Consumers need to take necessary precautions from their end in order to ensure that the food is not contaminated before consumption. For this, individuals must;
1. Keep produce separate from meat, poultry, seafood and eggs, while shopping.
2. Keep produce and other ready to eat foods in a separate area of the refrigerator, away from the meat, poultry, seafood and eggs.
3. Refrigerate food within 2 hours of grocery shopping or 1 hour if kept in air temperatures above 32 degrees.
4. Wash hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before preparing food.
5. Rinse whole fruits and vegetables under running water and dry with a clean cloth.
6. Clean cooking surfaces and utensils with hot, soapy water after every use.
7. Keep meat, poultry, and seafood warm (60 degrees or above) between cooking and serving.
The individuals must make sure to avoid;
1. Choosing meat, poultry, seafood, or eggs with broken or leaking packaging.
2. Removing eggs from the carton or keeping them in the refrigerator door.
3. Placing raw meats, poultry, or seafood on upper shelves of the refrigerator where they can drip onto other foods.
4. Using soap or detergent on foods.
5. Reusing plates or cutting boards that have touched uncooked meat, poultry, seafood, eggs, or flour before washing them with hot, soapy water.
6. Allowing food to cool before refrigerating.
7. Letting food to sit out for more than 2 hours or 1 hour in air temperatures above 32 degrees.
Food Safety by Street/Home Food Sellers
There are more than 1.2 million registered street vendors in India, as of 2013. These street vendors are subjected to food safety norms. However, there are many more unregistered street food vendors, or home food sellers. There are many women or families in India who sell baked goods, snacks or even cooked tiffins from home. The service helps them stay financially independent. However, these entrepreneurs are not really registered with FSSAI, making it difficult for the food safety agency to enforce the food safety norms on them.
In order to discourage these entrepreneurs from conducting their business outside the law, the food safety agencies of states are now tightening their norms by charging a penalty of over 5 lakhs and imprisonment of over 6 months against not registering their businesses. The move is important so that these vendors are also subjected to the safety norms and are under the ambit of the law.
Food Safety is an important aspect to consider to fight against malnutrition, and achieve health goals in India. A collaborative effort from all to achieve food safety at production and a keen sense of self-preservation will achieve it at the level of consumption.