The Sur­veil­lance Se­ries

Team starts ‘sur­veil­lance’ and test­ing to keep check on vi­o­la­tors

Consumer Voice - - Front Page -

Eyes on the Food Shelf

It is a com­mon sight now. Ev­ery se­cond day one sees a new prod­uct be­ing launched, mak­ing suit­ably large claims and ex­tra­or­di­nary prom­ises to lure con­sumers. On their part, con­sumers do not have the time and re­sources (and per­haps in­cli­na­tion) to find out if those claims and prom­ises are gen­uine. At the same time, there are manda­tory norms and stan­dards set by reg­u­la­tory bod­ies of the govern­ment which prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers must fol­low. How­ever, con­sumers al­ways can­not find out if all the prod­ucts they con­sume are meet­ing those stan­dards. More­over, the govern­ment of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for keep­ing a check on whether the stan­dards are be­ing fol­lowed are not be­ing able to keep pace with the flood­ing mar­kets – they just aren’t enough in num­bers and need the sup­port of civil so­ci­ety and aware con­sumers to ac­com­plish their tasks. No, the pic­ture is not gloomy at all. Man­u­fac­tur­ers and mar­keters are not cheat­ing their con­sumers all the time. How­ever, there is a sense of trust deficit among con­sumers. There are times when it emerges that some facts that a con­sumer must know about the prod­uct are not be­ing re­vealed by the com­pa­nies or are be­ing sugar-coated for com­mer­cial pur­poses. Un­doubt­edly there is

a need for a sub­tle cam­paign, an in­clu­sive move­ment wherein con­sumers, con­sumer-fo­cused or­gan­i­sa­tions, reg­u­la­tory bod­ies, gov­ern­ments, and prod­uct man­u­fac­tur­ers come to­gether and think of and ask the right ques­tions, and raise an alarm or blow the whis­tle when­ever there is an in­ci­dent of a breach of trust.

Year 2015 has been quite hap­pen­ing for the food prod­ucts in­dus­try. Thanks to a noo­dle-brand con­tro­versy, the Food Safety and Stan­dards Au­thor­ity of In­dia (FSSAI) made it to the front pages of news­pa­pers and be­came part of prime-time dis­cus­sions on news chan­nels. One of the in­ter­est­ing de­vel­op­ments was that con­sumers across the coun­try be­gan talk­ing about the ‘qual­ity’ of pack­aged foods that they had been con­sum­ing for years. They were get­ting to know about the ‘stan­dards’ that each food prod­uct on the retail shelf must fol­low. The noo­dle con­tro­versy had un­wit­tingly be­come the start­ing point of a quasi-mass aware­ness cam­paign and made many con­sumers ‘con­scious’ and alert about pack­aged foods.

As it hap­pened, while the coun­try was dis­cussing and de­bat­ing about ways to find so­lu­tions for a con­sis­tent check on pack­aged foods, Team Con­sumer

Voice was for­mal­is­ing a strat­egy. We planned to add value to the govern­ment’s work through mar­ket sur­veil­lance and ran­dom test­ing of pack­aged foods and food sup­ple­ments.

All reg­u­la­tory stan­dards were thor­oughly stud­ied, global best prac­tices were un­der­stood, and a list of the most com­monly con­sumed pack­aged foods was made. A team of pro­fes­sion­als was formed to test and ver­ify each of those prod­uct cat­e­gories and write un­bi­ased fac­tual re­ports in the com­ing is­sues of Con­sumer Voice.

The Process

The test­ing and re­port­ing pro­ce­dure that is be­ing fol­lowed is sim­ple enough. Buy prod­uct sam­ples of pop­u­lar brands from re­tail­ers, an­a­lyse their la­bels, and see if they fol­low the stan­dard guide­lines; next, send

the sam­ples to an ac­cred­ited lab­o­ra­tory for test­ing of key pa­ram­e­ters, study the re­sults, cre­ate a re­port with key find­ings as well as sug­ges­tions, and share it with con­sumers and all other stake­hold­ers in­clud­ing the govern­ment/reg­u­la­tors.

The fol­low­ing are the steps to be fol­lowed for each prod­uct’s sur­veil­lance:

Mar­ket re­search

A team of ex­perts from Con­sumer Voice reg­u­larly vis­its mar­kets to study the avail­abil­ity of food prod­ucts of var­i­ous cat­e­gories, as also the claims and mar­ket­ing strate­gies of their re­spec­tive man­u­fac­tur­ers in or­der to un­der­stand how they in­flu­ence con­sumers.

Sam­ple pur­chase

The team buys sam­ples of pop­u­lar brands be­long­ing to same/sim­i­lar prod­uct cat­e­gory, from re­tail­ers at var­i­ous lo­ca­tions at dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals (dif­fer­ent man­u­fac­tur­ing lots wher­ever pos­si­ble). They keep a cash memo/bill of each pur­chase. The sam­ples so gath­ered are used for la­bel anal­y­sis as well as test­ing.

Eval­u­a­tion and anal­y­sis of la­belling claims

La­bel in­for­ma­tion pro­vided on prod­ucts and pack­ages of all the pur­chased sam­ples is ver­i­fied as per the pro­vi­sions of na­tional stan­dards and reg­u­la­tions. The pri­mary eval­u­a­tion pa­ram­e­ters in­clude: Pack­ag­ing Mark­ing/La­belling Ex­piry date/Best be­fore Max­i­mum retail price (MRP) Ad­di­tional claims on packet In case of ex­tra­or­di­nary claims, the Con­sumer

Voice tech­ni­cal team may seek clarifications from man­u­fac­tur­ers and ask for the ba­sis of their claims.

Test­ing

The tech­ni­cal depart­ment, af­ter ver­i­fy­ing the claims and re­quire­ments of the reg­u­la­tory body/ stan­dards, may carry out two to three key tests to ver­ify the qual­ity of prod­uct as well as man­u­fac­turer’s claims. Pri­mar­ily, the tests will be con­ducted to check the pres­ence of the fol­low­ing: Heavy me­tals like lead, ar­senic, cad­mium, and mer­cury Pes­ti­cides Mi­cro­bi­o­log­i­cal in­di­ca­tors such as to­tal plate count, E. coli, and co­l­iform

Sen­sory panel test

A panel is formed to judge the food items on sub­jec­tive pa­ram­e­ters that can­not be tested in the lab. Weigh­tage as deemed ap­pro­pri­ate is given based on the panel mem­bers’ best judge­ment and re­ported in the laid-down for­mat.

Key find­ings

The key find­ings ob­served dur­ing mar­ket sur­veil­lance, the anal­y­sis of la­belling claims, and the test re­sults for prod­ucts will be pub­lished in Con­sumer Voice for build­ing up pub­lic aware­ness and will also be shared with the rel­e­vant wings of govern­ment.

Fol­low-up ac­tions

When deemed nec­es­sary, Voice will reach out to the rel­e­vant govern­ment de­part­ments to take ac­tion on the find­ings of the tests. For ex­am­ple, if a na­tional stan­dards norm is not be­ing fol­lowed by a par­tic­u­lar brand, then the con­cerned depart­ment will be re­quested to ini­ti­ate ac­tion against the vi­o­la­tor.

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