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Thursday, Aug 22, 2019

Food safety regulator should not dilute colour coding rule

For too long, our food safety laws have been inadequate.

india Updated: Jul 22, 2019 03:54 IST
Pushpa Girimaji
Pushpa Girimaji
Hindustan Times
Draft regulation requires food packages to mention the sodium content too.
Draft regulation requires food packages to mention the sodium content too.(Gurminder Singh/HT File)

Understandably, the food industry is quite miffed over the draft Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations 2019, uploaded by the food safety regulator on July 2 for public comments. The industry is particularly opposed to the colour coding of packaged foods on the basis of their high fat, sugar or sodium content, because as per values specified in the draft, a very large percentage ( almost 70% according to some estimates) of packed foods sold in the country would get the red marking.

One hopes that the food safety regulator will not give in to their demand and dilute the regulation in this regard, because the red coding serves the dual purpose of alerting consumers about unhealthy foods, while at the same time, forcing manufacturers to reduce salt, sugar and fat content in their food.

For too long, our food safety laws have been inadequate. For example, given the direct link between high salt intake and hypertension, many countries around the world are coaxing and forcing food manufacturers to bring down the salt content in food. But in our country, the food safety regulations do not even require packaged foods to mention the salt content!

In fact last year, in one of my columns, I had expressed dismay over the fact that most packed foods — and this included savouries high in salt such as ‘namkeens’ , potato wafers, pickles — did not mention the most crucial ingredient, its sodium content. And from a few packages that gave that information, I was shocked to find how unhealthy these foods were! One of them, for example, had 920 mg of sodium in a serving of 100 gm! As per the World Health Organization, our daily intake of salt should be limited to less than 5 gm of salt or 2000 mg of sodium. So, by eating one serving of the namkeen, one would consume 46% of the WHO-recommended daily intake of sodium.

Now finally, the draft regulation requires food packages to mention the sodium content too, and this time, the information on fat, sugar and sodium will be on the front of the package. In other words, the front of the package will declare the amount of energy, saturated fat, trans fat, added sugar and sodium per serve and also indicate the per serve percentage contribution to Recommended Daily Allowance.

Since not many people can read or understand the significance of these numbers , the red coding is a simple way of warning them about the high fat, sugar or salt content, so that they can avoid such foods and go for healthier options. Considering the high prevalence of diabetes and hypertension in the country, the red coding would be an extremely important step towards promoting healthy eating among the citizens.

The draft regulation also requires manufacturers to mention the date of manufacture and the ‘best before’ date together. If you look at the packages today, it seems as if the manufacturers wish to hide rather than reveal the shelf life. The date of manufacture is usually visible , but in order to calculate the shelf life, you need to search for the missing link — the ‘best before’ date and that’s hard to find. And then it says ‘Best before 15 days from the date of packaging’, so you need to calculate the shelf life. And you need to know English in order to get this information!

So, I have for long argued that the two information should be together and in a simple manner — the date of manufacture and below it, the use by date, as on medicine packages. The manufacturers have, however, always resisted this and I am glad that the draft regulation has mandated it and I do hope that it stays in the final version.

First Published: Jul 22, 2019 03:54 IST

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