Sagrika Sanjay from Food Marketing & Technology-India Interacted with Dr. Kaushik Banerjee, President, India Section of AOAC INTERNATIONAL

1 Please highlight the main focus of FSSAI in the AOAC INTERNATIONAL Conference.

The main focus of FSSAI is on ensuring food safety and standards, with an emphasis on nutrition as the basis for conducting food analyses and implementing food safety parameters. Food safety concerns such as the presence of contaminants or adulterants in food products, including veterinary drugs and pesticides, form a key part of our investigations and interventions. The major agenda of AOAC INTERNATIONAL Conference is on botanicals, nutriceuticals, and their identity.

2 What are veterinary drug residues?

Veterinary drugs are similar to human drugs, given to animals with the primary aim of preventing and curing diseases. Occasionally, these drugs are used for modification of physiological functions or behaviours observed in animals. Antibiotics, antiparasitics, and anti-inflammatory drugs are some examples. The residual presence of these drugs within the anatomy of animals poses a risk to human consumers of these animal food products. This is a huge public health concern at the moment.

3 What led to FSSAI’s decision to adopt a risk analysis framework for its work?

The adoption of a risk analysis framework owes its basis in the use of a scientific approach to handling food safety related hazards. This framework helps us to identify the overall implications of the presence of harmful contaminants in consumed foods by breaking down the short-and long-term risks posed by each drug class, their primary usage, the amount of drugs present in each article of consumed food, and the potential consequences for human health as a result of the same.

4 What are the AOAC SMPRs which were mentioned in the conference?

The current regulatory scenario requires the introduction of analytical development models by food and beverage companies and providers to monitor the presence of veterinary drug residues in their products. Companies should participate and engage with AOAC in their ongoing efforts to establish standard method performance requirements (SMPRs) for the screening and confirmation of a list of 151 specified veterinary drug residues in raw materials, semi-finished, and finished food products.

5 What has been the major breakthrough made by AOAC and FSSAI this year?

Breaking with convention, the AOAC has decided to focus primarily on food related matters this year. The MoU signed between FSSAI and AOAC INTERNATIONAL is a key part of this shift in strategy. In the U.S., the AOAC is run by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). As part of this collaboration, we are planning to conduct a series of planning courses and capacity building programmes within and across the two organizations, build new facilities, and introduce the food analyst examination this year.

6 Can you tell us more about the workshops being organized by FSSAIacross India?

In the last one year, we have conducted several workshops across the country, starting in Delhi, Chennai, Cochin, Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kolkata, and Hyderabad, among others. We received a good response in these cities; we had 50-80 people in attendance for most of the seminars. Through these workshops and seminars, our attempt has been to communicate, in simple language, the various techniques which need to befollowed and regulations adhered to with regard to maintaining food safety and standards. The majority of the audience at these seminars came from within the industry as well as from the field of academia.

7 Is there a need for general guidelines on sampling?

The sampling methods are designed and intended for use to avoid or remove difficulties which may arise by diverging legal, administrative and technical approaches to sampling, and by diverging interpretation of results of analysis in relation to lots or consignments of foods, in the light of the relevant provision(s) of the applicable standard. A ‘lot’ is a definite quantity of a commodity manufactured or produced under certain conditions, which are presumed uniform for the purpose of these Guidelines. We work on developing the MoU between FSSAI and AOAC INTERNATIONAL. FSSAI has also conducted various web-seminars. This year we will facilitate FSSAI‘s activities in relation to sampling and analysis.

8 Is FSSAI providing help to the AOAC in any capacity?

The AOAC requires a lot of support from FSSAI. We have a scientific panel as well as a working group in place at our organization, with a resource pool of over 3000 experts. . With the help of our team of experts, we are assisting AOAC on a number of matters.

9 Any last thoughts you would like to offer on the MoU signed between AOAC INTERNATIONAL and the FSSAI?

FSSAI has all sorts of analytical manuals which we will be digging up to improve the present structure. TheMoU was a great idea and a good beginning. Through this MoU, we seek to facilitate and enable the growth and sustained functioning of FSSAI. Whenever any analytical method is required to be implemented in a given scenario, or an extension of an existing method is sought, FSSAI will ensure that knowledge dissemination takes place as we teach labs how to use the relevant methods.

10 Are there any plans to upgrade labs and food sampling units across the country?

There are central and state food labs, as well as private labs, across the country which are FSSAI approved. These labs follow the required protocols with regard to product safety and standards, in compliance with FSSAI and Indian government guidelines.

Some of these labs require upgrades and support from the AOAC and FSSAI to improve their functioning and enhance exisiting capacities. Smaller labs with fewer resources are unable to swiftly process food safety checks for the huge number of incoming products, causing widespread delaysin the system. FSSAI, thus, is trying to simplify the process, increase on-ground capacities and ensure the efficacy of the entire system.