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Food safety & Hygiene No Room For Complacency

The advent of Food Safety & Standards Act (FSSA) has brought a paradigm shift in the way Food Business Operators (FBOs) perceive and handle matters related to safety and hygiene standards at their units. The onus is also upon the facility planners and designers to help the industry with kitchen designs which are in sync with the laid down standards. Hospitality Biz tries to understand how hospitality consultants and vendors are gearing up to take the FSSA bull by the horns

Monday, March 3, 2014, 14:00 Hrs  [IST]


While the news of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) postponing the deadline yet again for conversion, renewal of existing registrations for FBO’s under the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011 has been welcomed by the hospitality industry in one voice; it doesn’t give a permanent consolation to the industry.  Of course, the fourth extension held on February 4, 2014 might be a shrewd move by political masters for another six months, for whom this is the time to appease the vote banks. But the one thing that’s sure is the new regulations that are framed after prolonged consultations are here to stay and cannot be buckled for long.

The hotel and restaurant industry is by and large in favour of the regulation, except for few flaws in the “technical and regulatory” aspects of it.  They wanted “calibrated” and “consultative” approach before it being enforced upon the industry. Yes, of course, in a country where major chunk, almost 70 per cent, of food service business is in the unorganised sector, any talk of food safety and hygiene standards would be an impractical proposition without addressing the ground realities.  However, the marathon consultations and workshops organised over the last two years both by the authority as well as the industry bodies across the country have created certain level of awareness about the impending regulatory framework  in the market.

food_safety_and_hygiene_2.jpgThe FSSA lays down stringent procedures starting from designing the commercial kitchens, layout, usage of equipments, procurements of ingredients, handling and storage, hygiene of both the facility as well as handlers, preparation, display to others.  The FBOs have to keep records of everything at every level of procurement till usage.  The units also have to keep the licencing authority updated on any change in the lay out, expansion, change in product category for which licence has been obtained.

The high level of safety and hygiene outlined in the FSSA would necessitate very high levels of professionalism while delivering food service. The professional consultants, hotel and restaurant designers, facility planners, equipment manufacturers and suppliers, food importers, vendors all have to re-adjust their role in the industry so that their clients and customers are not inconvenienced unnecessarily by the regulators.

Sense of caution
Professional consultants find the new regulatory regime as an opportunity to improve the food service delivery system in the country.  The standards although difficult to implement in the Indian context due to various bottlenecks related to infrastructure, the general feeling is that it is time we improved our food safety and hygiene standards to the international standards.  The hospitality consultants feel that hotel and restaurant owners need to focus on safety aspects from the concept stage of their units to create a safe and hygienic environment.   

anil_bhandari_new.jpg“Precautions that need to be taken to ensure conformity with food safety norms have to be taken from the conceptual stage itself. The concept includes identification of the type of cuisine to be served; creation of a menu listing the number of items to be prepared; and categorisation of the equipment required to prepare the type of cuisine identified,” informs Anil Bhandari, Chairman, abSmart Concepts. A time-and-motion study is necessary before considering the design of the kitchen and secondary spaces as it will help in making decisions related to the site plan, floor plan, equipment layout, plumbing, ventilation, lighting and materials to be used. In accordance with the Hazard analysis and critical control points (HACCP) guidelines, importance is being given to ergonomically-designed installations such as plumbing, drainage, lighting, air-conditioning, exhaust, fire safety and accident-proof systems, suggests Bhandari.

m_ramvittal_rao.jpgAccording to M Ramvittal Rao, Director, Vittal Concept Design, any food and beverage production space must primarily meet three kinds of safety aspects - food safety, employee safety and fire safety. “The equipment selected must be provided with certifications which have an international stamp such as NSF, CE, UL, TUV, EnergyStar and others.  These certifications provide for all requirements for a safe working kitchen environment.  Additionally, wall surfaces need to receive matt finish vitrified tiles with minimal joints or synthetic hard plastic wall panels, floors should be laid with ten millimeter thick vitrified composite tiles and still better resin bonded quartz sheets which will last 15 years plus.  The false ceilings in all kitchen areas should be stainless steel,” he informs.

Highlights of the general Sanitary and hygienic requirements applicable for FBOs are as under

Layout And Design Of Food Establishment Premises
  1. As far as possible, the layout of the food establishment shall be such that food preparation / manufacturing processes are not amenable to cross-contamination from other pre and post manufacturing operations like goods receiving, pre-processing (viz. packaging, washing / portioning of ready-to-eat food, etc).
  2. Floors, ceilings and walls must be maintained  in a sound condition to minimize the accumulation of dirt, condensation and growth of undesirable moulds. They should be made of impervious material and should be smooth and easy to clean with no flaking paint or plaster.
  3. The floor of food processing / food service area shall have adequate and proper drainage and shall be easy to clean and where necessary, disinfect. Floors shall be sloped appropriately to facilitate drainage and the drainage shall flow in a direction opposite to the direction of food preparation / manufacturing process flow.
  4. Adequate control measures should be in place to prevent insects and rodents from entering the processing area from drains.
  5. No person shall manufacture, store or expose for sale or permit the sale of any article of food in any premises not effectively separated to the satisfaction of the licensing authority from any privy, urinal, sullage, drain or place of storage of foul and waste matter.
Equipment & Containers
  1. Equipment and containers that come in contact with food and used for food handling, storage, preparation, processing, packaging and serving shall be made of corrosion free materials which do not impart any toxicity to the food material and should be easy to clean and /or disinfect (other than disposable single use types).
  2. Equipment shall be so located, designed and fabricated that it permits necessary maintenance and cleaning functions as per its intended use and facilitates good hygiene practices inside the premise including monitoring and audit.
  3. Appropriate facilities for the cleaning and disinfecting of equipments and instruments and wherever possible cleaning in place (CIP) system shall be adopted.

pankaj_giroti.jpgStrong compliance to food safety and hygiene standards  would become  a unique selling proposition for hotels and restaurants going forward and would enable them to derive higher return on investments, feels Pankaj Giroti, Chief Advisory Mentor, TallOak Hospitality. “We strongly recommend to the hospitality entrepreneurs to create right facilities. The idea is to create hygienic facilities, ease of working and comforting atmosphere, in addition to something that pleases one and all. Moreover, the aim is always to reduce the cost of operation and increase efficiency manifolds. As the old saying goes Back of the house supplements the Front of the House,” he states.  Complying with the HACCP and Food Safety regulations, one needs to conduct a hazard analysis , identify critical control points, establish critical limits, establish critical control monitoring requirements, establish corrective actions, establish record keeping systems and establish verification procedures.  

neel_kamal_chauhan.jpgKitchen designers strictly follow HACCP principals and now FSSAI, informs Neel Kamal Chauhan of HPG Consulting.  Explaining the various priorities when comes to designing a kitchen, Neel said, “Avoiding cross flows, adequate refrigeration, process monitoring, personal hygiene of the staff, cross contamination, kitchen waste management are of vital importance in a kitchen design. “Refrigeration is an integral part of any kitchen design and is designed keeping in mind the incoming and outgoing flow of perishables. Integration of refrigeration with BMS (building management system) has become vital element in designs.  Staff accesses through hygiene control systems , air purification, sterilization of processing equipment are also integral part of any kitchen design,” Neel added.

pradeep_mathur.jpgEnumerating the design priorities, Pradeep Mathur, Managing Director, Mathur Hospitality said that any kitchen design should take into consideration safety in relation to property, manpower, and equipment.  

Easing the burden
While new guidelines on food safety and security are a little stringent and difficult to implement, there is technology available to assist those who have genuine will and the wherewithal.   Modern technological gadgets and equipments have really changed the way commercial kitchens are designed and operated in recent times.  Whether it is flooring and ceiling, storage and preservation equipment, modular kitchens and ovens,  chafing dishes, the modern commercial kitchens are a visual delight.  “Trend is to have an international standard kitchen, which is efficient & easy to maintain. Earlier we used to maintain a line for the equipment, but now we have to see that a kitchen looks nice in all aspects while functioning. With new technologies and imported equipment we are able to save space. Also, quite a few have dual or multi- usage/ purpose attachments, which allow a consultant to minimise internal kitchen space and give space to front of house facilities. Technology is also available to prepare & store International cuisines like Continental, Italian, American and others, but Indian food is something which requires last minute preparations and finishes. Probably technology still has to meet the Indian cuisine preparation standards,” says Mathur of Mathur Hospitality.

The Imperial New Delhi sets up food safety department

With a vision to establish a structured, stringent and analytical hygiene program across all levels of operations, The Imperial has launched a ‘Food safety and hygiene standards department’. This program aims to provide training and direction in food safety and hygiene standards maintenance at the hotel in compliance with FSSAI standards. The department has been designed to implement many thought-provoking strategies for a 360 degree food safety analysis program starting from supplies to the services offered to the guest or to the hotel associate.

Commenting on this initiative Vijay Wanchoo, Senior Executive Vice President & General Manager, The Imperial New Delhi elaborated, “The launch of FSHS department is a phenomenal step towards creating new benchmarks at The Imperial. The department has a full fledged micro biological laboratory - The Imperial Lab, equipped with the state-of-the-art technology to maintain food hygiene standards and conduct analysis under a focused approach.”

He added, “We plan to implement a ‘structured hygiene program’ for material procurement, kitchen, food production, spa areas, guest vehicles in the hotel premises as well as bathrooms in the suites. In the later stages, we aim to make the lab accredited for conducting tests and also an independent certificate provider for commercial purposes.”

“Hospitality kitchens are no more just cooking areas,” says Neel Chauhan.  Gone are the times when commercial kitchens were just a cooking area, now with the engagement of professional foodservice designers, technological advancements in food production equipment and influx of international hotel and restaurants operators, and varied international cuisines have made a significant impact on kitchen designs.  “Today’s kitchen has parameters such as effective space utilisation, energy efficient, easy for operations and should provide healthier and safer work environment for the chefs. There is clear and certain distinction of the flow starting from pre-preparation areas to food production and service.  The aesthetics inside the kitchen like right kind of flooring, walls, ceiling is equally important,” he added.

There is also a trend to go more Greener in terms of operations, waste disposal and recycling as food safety guidelines mandates procedures for hygiene in kitchens, notes Bhandari.  Due importance is being given to ‘green’ or sustainable hotels, non-polluting environmental clearances. Also, the growing popularity of LEED Certification has led to a new thought of line in terms of water and waste management. Investment in technology for water and energy conservation methods, recycling of waste and built-in hygienic safeguards to arrest kitchen pollution is increasing, informs Bhandari.

food_safety_and_hygiene_3.jpgVendors Outlook
In the last few years many of the major national and multi-national food and beverage companies have started asking their local distributors and wholesale dealers to obtain licenses under the FSSA. Under the Act, vendors and distributors can be held liable for selling products after its date of expiry, misbranding, and storing in unsafe conditions rather than the manufacturer. The Act states that food business operators functioning without license can be imprisoned for six months and fined up to Rs five lakh. Dealers found selling substandard products are liable to be fined up to Rs five lakh and those selling misbranded products, up to Rs three lakh. Obtaining these licenses will make the dealer conform to the stringent norms on storage, transporting, and distributing food products. Conforming to the Act will ensure that high food safety standards are maintained. The licences have to be renewed annually.

The strong world-wide trends for health and wellness have affected demand for modern kitchens. A lot of thought and planning goes into the modern, new-age, ergonomically designed kitchen. Vegetables and other perishables have to be kept fresh, and prepared so that they preserve their nutritional value, using as little fat as possible. Need and adherence to FSSA compliance is an Executive Chef’s top priority today.

food_safety_and_hygiene_4.jpgCommenting on FSSA Act, Marco Pesce, Country Manager, Electrolux Professional said, “For Electrolux, it is a great opportunity, as our equipments like the Air-o-steam Touchline and Air-o-convect Touchline combi ovens, Air-o-chill blast freezing systems, and pressure bratt pans support the new age culinary techniques like sous vide and cook n chill support the endeavours of the chef to keep up with hygiene and food safety trends in the commercial kitchen. Thus, we are by far the leaders in the industry in providing hi-end equipments which support the users’ requirement in maintaining food safety and hygiene.”

With more and more parameters coming in force, it is a matter of time that the Industry has to follow Global standards which will help provide world class service and with more professionalise approach this transition will become a smooth affair.

sanjeevak_marwaha.jpgSanjeevak Marwaha, Managing Director, Winterhalter India said, “With FSSA coming into force Hospitality & Food Industry will take extra measures to ensure cleanliness and hygiene. Winterhalter is extremely well placed to address these concerns from FSSA segment, as all our products are designed with a clear focus on delivering hygienically clean dishes to our customers. Also, with our wide sales network and market leading products, we are ready to partner the industry to embrace this change.”

He also added that Winterhalter ensures safety and hygiene standards and measures as per the regulatory norms. They import every single unit from Germany, Switzerland and UK. Since all their products are certified as per European Standards, they do not undertake any other certification and testing of machines in India. Winterhalter Gastronom GmbH was awarded certification for quality, environmental protection and occupational health and safety by the Swiss Association for Quality and Management Systems, and is amongst the first to get such a comprehensive certification.

rakesh_tara.jpgRakesh Tara, Country Manager – India, Angelo Po Grandi Cucine said, “Our products like Chicken Star Combi ovens are one of the product from our vast range which helps a Chef finish his work faster and in a very hygienic way, besides this there are various other equipment which in true sense are Chef’s companion. Besides our various equipments training and service programmes, our company is actively engaged in uplifting the conditions of the kitchen where food safety and hygiene are most important parameters and now even government is getting serious to check the hygienic conditions of the kitchen. This has also promoted us to introduce more user-friendly washing functions in our Combi ovens.”

With food preparation becoming a visible activity and show kitchens becoming popular, along with functional efficiency of the gadgets and equipments, the whole look and feel of the equipments have become increasingly important now. Commenting on how much this is putting extra pressure on manufacturers and vendors on R&D, Tara explained, “There is lot of pressure on manufacturers to make beautiful equipment which can be placed in front of the guests, instead of the closed kitchen as in earlier times. Hence, chic and sleek looking equipment is the need of the hour. Beautiful monoblocks with practically all colors are available from our stable and features like Combi oven with personalised signature for branding, smoker kit and pasteurisation kit are some of the new features of our products which place us above other manufacturers.”

‘FSSA: Extreme idea of deterrence would create  life-long resistance to the Act’
Dr V Pasupathy is a  renowned Food Scientist and a Certified Lead Auditor on Food Safety Management Systems in the country.  He has conducted umpteen workshops for Food Business Owners  (FBOs) and hospitality industry stakeholders on the impending Food Safety & Standards Act (FSSA).  In the light of FSSAI differing the deadline for conversion/renewal of existing licence for the fourth time for another six months, HospitalityBiz approached Dr Pasupathy to understand the loopholes in the Act, which makes its enforcement impossible and impractical.
  1. A self declaration act till date is not understood by state governments as they believe in blind enforcement.
  2. Our views and technical issues were sought by the FSSAI by  March 31,  2011. But  till date no answer or explanation has reached the industry. We were not even called for a discussion on these.
  3. Penalties are 10 to 200 times higher compared to the earlier PFA . Extreme idea of deterrence can become life long resistance and that is what has happened to this law.
  4. Much of the discourse on preconditions for the FBO s are to do with civic amenities . Local government bodies have miserable track record of performance and industry cannot be a victim for their non performance.
  5. In right earnest hotel industry across India conducted workshops.  I have personally travelled , taken 8- hour workshop  in each location covering more than 10000 owners and professionals. So our commitment cannot be doubted. No FBO is objecting to punishment for adulteration nor objects to hygiene assurance.
  6. Industry is scarcely represented in the Central Advisory Council. This makes the law unenforceable.
  7. The standards indicated are unreal as such raw materials don’t exist in India.
  8. Pesticide residue level is a laughing stock as neither central government nor state government nor universities nor scientists nor academicians who are behind the  drafting can show us any sample in this country without these residues.
  9. There is huge contradiction between stakeholding Ministries of the government like Chemicals & Fertiliser , Agriculture Ministry and Health Ministry. No one has answers but they expect FBO s to follow them.
  10. No state government budget or Central government budget has any plans for argumentation of the FSSAI with provision for laboratory facilities or resources deployment , etc .
In short, FSSA is unenforceable not because industry rejects or underestimates the significance of food safety.  As entrepreneurs customers are important to them and  their well being is paramount.  Business men don’t get dismissed or reelected nor do they apply for transfers.  For most of them the business they do is their social identity card.
If drainage systems work ,if garbage clearance happens on time, if government slaughter houses are professionally run, if fruit and vegetables market have bare minimum hygiene, if ground water is without pesticide residue, FSSAI will become the act that it wants to be or else it will continue to be an incomplete bridge. As a scientist, I am positive but worried. My nation needs food safety but through a methodology that is more practical.

food_safety_and_hygiene_5.jpgA lot of hotels are applying international standard, not only International brands but also local ones. Apart from FSSA, ETL approvals or HACCP certification is becoming mandatory in India also. The new Electrolux Hood Type dishwashers come with ETL Sanitation Approval and comply with DIN 10512 standards. The excellent washing and rinsing performances of the dishwashers result in the highest standards of cleanliness (the wash water is free from food residue) and hygiene (total detergent removal), and the high quality rinsing results in complete sanitation.

marco_pesce.jpg“Our machines are HACCP certified, and allow HACCP monitoring via an integrated PC network, thus equipping the Chef with ready solution to maintain high level of hygiene efficiency. Most importantly, Electrolux Touchline ovens provide fully automatic cleaning, from four pre-set cycles including the new green functions of the integrated cleaning system. This eco-friendly cleaning option optimises the consumption of rinse aid, electricity and water; reducing up to 50 per cent of the running costs; saving energy time after time and preserving the environment. At the end of the Shift, a Chef can leave a perfectly clean oven, ready for next day’s cooking,” added Pesce.

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