Hazard reduction: FSSAI mandates compulsory third-party food safety audits in six ‘high-risk’ categories
According to the order document, the agency has designated six such ‘high-risk’ food categories: Dairy, meat, fish, eggs, foods for nutritional uses (e.g. infant nutrition), prepared foods and products related/sourced from these.
“The food businesses subject to mandatory food safety auditing [in these categories] shall get [the] business audited by a recognized auditing agency at intervals as specified by [FSSAI],” said FSSAI Executive Director (Compliance Strategy) Dr Shobhit Jain, who issued the order.
“[This is in accordance] with the Food Safety and Standards (Food Safety Auditing) Regulations, 2018.”
FSSAI added that these food safety audits would help to ‘reduce the regulatory Food Safety Inspections conducted by Central or State Licensing Authorities’.
“Satisfactory audits will lead to less frequent regulatory inspections by Central or State Licensing Authority, except [for] regulatory sampling. This will strengthen food safety surveillance system and encourage self-compliance,” said the agency.
“In the case of complaints against the [companies], or when it comes to the knowledge of the Food Authority (FSSAI) that public health and safety is at risk, the Food Authority shall have the discretion to undertake more frequent inspections.”
According to the FSSAI Auditor Manual released earlier this year, the frequency intervals for each company would differ according to product categories, and further varied based on the Audit Score Range they achieved during each audit.
For example, a dairy company that scores an Audit Score Range of 81% to 100% would be subject to a food safety audit once every 12 months, but 51% to 80% would mean an audit once every nine months, and anything less than 50% would mean an audit every six months.
The same applies to companies that fall under any of the six categories classified as ‘high-risk’, but the intervals are generally longer (18 months, 12 months, six months) for all other categories, e.g. spices or non-dairy beverages.
Need-to-know audit details for food firms
FSSAI also published a separate list of 23 government-recognised auditing agencies located throughout the country, 21 of which were licensed to conduct audits ‘all over India’.
“Agencies that wish to apply to be recognised [by FSSAI] as an auditing agency will be prescribed (sic) a fee of INR30,000 (US$419) for a period of three years,” added FSSAI.
However, despite the now-compulsory implementation of food safety audits for the food companies mentioned above, there is no controlled auditing fee structure for either the food firm or auditors to adhere to.
“The audit fee will be as per mutual agreement between the auditing agency and the [food company],” said FSSAI.
“However, [guidelines] regarding the fee structure may be issued as and when required.”