KOCHI: As the world marks World Food Safety Day today, the global spotlight shines on the pressing issues of foodborne illnesses and unsafe food practices. This year’s theme – ‘Food Standards Save Lives’ – highlights the significance of implementing and adhering to robust food safety standards.
We sit with Assistant Food Safety Commissioner P K John Vijaykumar, who has been leading the charge for food safety in Ernakulam for the past 10 months, for a chat. John previously served in Kasaragod, where he has successfully spearheaded a number of initiatives, including the Eat Right India and Eat Right Campus movements, and also launched Kerala’s first clean street food hub at Thalangara.
“I firmly believe that our health is our own responsibility and one way to ensure it is through mindful eating habits,” he says.
Food safety has emerged as a major concern in recent times. How does your team work?
Once we ascertain a complaint is genuine we dispatch our Quick Response Team (QRT) to the location. Depending on the nature of the complaint, we collect samples for lab testing. If the samples are found to be substandard or unsuitable for consumption, appropriate legal actions are initiated. People can register complaints at our statewide toll-free number 1800 425 1125.
Could you share some initiatives undertaken in Ernakulam to promote food safety?
We have initiated the certification training under the Food Safety & Standard Authority of India. We have also deployed mobile testing labs for adulteration in food items. Another important initiative is the Safe and Nutritious Food @ School programme. Foods that are high in salt, fat, and sugar cannot be sold to children in schools, hostels, and colleges within a 50m radius.
Unhealthy food items like French fries, fried chips, samosas, ready-to-eat food, pizzas, and burgers are discouraged. Furthermore, we have introduced the ‘Food Safety Model Grama Panchayat’ initiative in our district. This programme aims to achieve 100 per cent food safety compliance in select panchayats in the district.
Street food is immensely popular these days. How do you regulate this sector?
The High Court has mandated the removal of illegal roadside eateries, and the corporation has been directed to enforce the same. One key initiative is the establishment of street food hubs akin to the Thalangara model in Kasaragod. These hubs will be introduced in locations such as the walkway near the Kochi port, Panampilly Nagar, and Paravur. They will revolutionise street food, and make it more appealing to tourists.
Have you been able to exploit the advances in technology?
One significant initiative we have undertaken is the development of a hygiene rating app. Customers can upload photos and videos of the food and environment. It allows the common man to play the role of a watchdog. Also, on the occasion of World Food Safety Day, we are launching the Save Food Share Food app, which aims to reduce food wastage. It will help identify regions where food wastage is likely to occur and facilitate the efficient distribution of excess food. If successful, we will expand it across Kerala.
What are the ongoing/upcoming campaigns that aim to enhance food safety?
One of our ongoing programs is the “Eat Right Schools” programme, which is an FSSAI initiative that focuses on promoting healthy eating habits among children. So far, five schools in Ernakulam have been declared as Eat Right schools. Similarly, we have launched the “Eat Right Campuses”, which will cover colleges, workplaces, and hospitals.
On World Food Safety Day, in conjunction with the International Year of Millets, we are organising an event called “Essenmilo” at Vinayaka Auditorium in Kadavanthra. It is a collaborative effort with Kudumbashree, and restaurants, caterers and bakers. There will be a millet-based food preparation competition, seminars by experts, the launch of the Save Food Share Food app, and a food expo. All are welcome to attend this event.
Another initiative we plan to implement, hopefully by Onam, is “Nirangale Vida” (Farewell to Colours). It aims to address our unconscious bias toward artificially coloured foods.