What Happens When Food Safety Officers Are Replaced With Custom Officials?

If you run a food business of any kind in India, how would you feel about someone who isn’t qualified in food technology ensuring the safety of your imported foods?

Because today, the Business Standard reported that the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had appointed customs officials to check and sign off on imported food items as they come into the country at airports. This change was made in March of this year,  and these custom officials were given the designation of “authorized officers”, and according to BS, “Besides undertaking all other custom duty related tasks, they are now additionally in-charge of supervising, taking samples, sending these to labs, reviewing the lab results and approving the safety of all imported food products coming into India against the set standards for more than several thousand products and ingredients that FSSAI approves.”

Under the FSSAI regulations, Food Safety Officers are supposed to “have a degree in food technology or dairy technology or biotechnology or oil technology or agricultural science or veterinary sciences or bio-chemistry or microbiology or a Masters in chemistry or degree in medicine from a recognised university”, but with this new development it’s clear that qualifications don’t really matter anymore.

How does this change things?

The custom officials that have been appointed have not been individually checked against these qualifications, but they still have additional food safety issues to handle and maintain. These officials are not trained in this line of work at all and the chances of food getting mishandled or information not being processed properly is quite high. Maybe the FSSAI will train them over time and give them better understanding of their job, but the chance of actually knowing the ins and outs of these processes are quite low.

“The technical qualifications apply only where FSSAI appoints its own (full time) authorised officers at these locations. Obviously not for the custom officials,” FSSAI responded to Business Standard’s questions and also added that, “Their appointment was decided in consultation with the department of customs. The basic idea and premise was to give the ease of doing business and facilitate the importer.”

Previously, the food was being sampled, tested, checked and stamped for release by officials who fully understand food and the process of production of said food. Now, the people in charge are not as informed about these systems. The chances of the food getting you being of lower quality is a possibility. Sure, things might not change that much and everything will still be okay and you might even get your food faster, but the fear of that happening is obviously an issue for people.