How does FSSAI plan to ensure quality of food sold online?

Most e-stores still do not display the 'best before' date of food products

By Purushottam Kumar
Published: Friday 02 July 2021
How does FSSAI plan to ensure quality of food sold online? Photo: Suvrajeet Biswal / Wikimedia Commons

The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) said in an order dated February 24, 2020 that containers of non-packaged / loose sweets at shops should display the date of manufacturing of the product and before which date it should be consumed.

This rule was made effective from June 1, 2020. There have been instances of stale / expired sweets being sold to consumers, which is posing potential health hazards, FSSAI added in its order.

On September 25, 2020, however, FSSAI passed a new order stating that only best before date of the product is mandatory and manufacturing date is purely voluntary and non-binding.

Most people shop online more frequently amid movement restrictions due to the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. One day, I was trying to order Rasgulla through one of the restaurant aggregators but none of the websites or mobile applications declared the best before date.

The FSSAI order only extends to the labels on the containers but at a time when people are avoiding physical shops, how is one supposed to ensure the eatables they are buying are safe for consumption?

The episode led me to file a right to information application before the department of health and family welfare, which was transferred to FSSAI. After 10 days, I received the reply that did not clearly provide answers to my questions. The first appeal has been filed in this case.

My first question was: Why only milk products are covered in the February order and not other perishable eatables, such as cakes and pasties? Don’t they get stale with time?! FSSAI’s response to this was that the question was hypothetical.

The second question in my application was whether e-delivery partners are exempted from the rule. FSSAI clarified that they are not but most e-delivery partners do not display the ‘best before’ date for at least milk items listed on their websites.

Why shouldn’t one be punished for such violation?

My final question was whether steps have been taken by the FSSAI for proper execution of this order. The food safety authority replied that regular surveillance and monitoring is taking place.

It is our fundamental right to have safe and nutritious food as per Article 21 of the Constitution of India. Why, then, this pick-and-choose while declaring the manufacturing date and safe consumption period?

FSSAI must understand that stale milk product is not only sold at brick-and-mortar shops but also the virtual way though e-shopping. 

Views expressed are the author’s own and don’t necessarily reflect those of Down To Earth 

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