Ashwin Satish Bhandari- CEO Equinox Labs, interacted with Sagrika Sanjay from Food Marketing & Technology-India to get for the record on quality tests and diverse services used by Equinox labs in India which has infused Digitalization, Automation, along with FSSAI Updates on WhatsApp.

1 How successful is Equinox labs in understanding FSSAI norms, shelf-life and chemical studies?

I take pride in stating that each of our 150+ Technical Experts is always updated on the latest FSSAI updates. Equinox Labs is among the top stakeholders who always encourage the implementation of any new FSSAI regulations, after considering its pros and cons. From Corporate to Food Businesses, my team and I have contributed in co-authoring and drafting quite some regulations in the past.

It isn’t out of the blue that FSSAI drafts policies; Food Business Operators [FBOs] state their hurdles on which the government officials work upon. In this one last year itself, the Apex Body has made mandatory quite some regulations. The results will soon show in the way of improved food safety standards and product quality.

Be it regulations for a Food Business or for a Testing Laboratory, we keep a close eye for any policy that can help improve our testing and our clients’ food safety standards. Like the draft on Labeling regulation which came out in the second week of April, INFoLNET, the use of colour – coding in school canteens, the testing of edible oil to curb its reuse, and more.

Also, Equinox is the only Laboratory in India which has infused Digitalization, Automation with FSSAI Updates on WhatsApp.

2 How can the testing lab be instrumental in raising the stature of food processing sector? How do you simplify the quality of processed foods?

By ensuring the reports we generate are within the lowest TAT, the results are accurate and the compliance and support team is at the beck and call of both the customers and the FBOs. It is important to realize that testing laboratories and Food Safety Consultancies are the bridge that can fill the gap between the food safety protocols and their actual implementation.

Processed foods are tricky; the regulations for them are manifold while several tests are essential for them to comply with FSSAI. To ensure only the best quality reaches the consumer, we provide free consultations for food businesses and their operational procedures. This helps them understand what they have and what they lack in. This knowledge is the stepping stone; if you know you need to have a license and the implications that come if you don’t have one, I am certain FBOs won’t hesitate.

3 Highlight the food testing constraints?

Explaining to the FBOs the different tests that are an absolute must. The logistics, sample collections from various cities, their shelf life during transit and the duration some tests take due to the testing procedures are some of the many constraints we come across. Of course, the testing procedures are in the process of standardisation, but the TAT is a hurdle considering the short shelf life of some products, like that of juices, meat, etc.

We are seeing the end of the tunnel in this problem with the advent of Indian Food Laboratory Network [INFoLNET]. Transparency among the laboratories across the country, while building a network for the benefit of the consumers and FBOs is fabulous.

This year, our company has gained a total of 1,200+ collection points PAN – India. Our logistics will soon be a game-changer, helping us work towards our TAT.

4 Highlight your food monitoring services.

We provide Food, Water and Air testing on a broad term. Food Microbial testing, Swab Testing, Beverage and Water testing are some of the core tests we provide. Apart from these, we also have Nutritional Labelling, Shelf Life Testing [Real time and Accelerated] depending upon the kind of product that we receive. Heavy Metals and Pesticides are important for those products that claim to be ‘organic’ in nature. Also, milk being an important part of the food processing sector, its adulteration is also tested at our premises.

We give our undiverted attention to the Food Quality, be it a Food Business or a corporate entity. We believe that’s the basis to healthy living and ultimately, progress of each sector.

5 Tell us about your various testing and lab equipments? How do you remain relevant to changing testing needs?

While we cannot disclose the names of the testing equipments in our facility, we ensure that they are as per the latest needs and demands of the market. Our State-of-the-Art facility houses the most recent technology – automation with Digitalization to decrease our TAT, minimise the human error and provide the most accurate results.

It is important that we keep modifying our testing process, the instruments we use and the technology that can benefit us. My QA team does keep a close track of all these aspects. Not just testing, but with over 160 Quality checkpoints, from sample collection to consultation on the results obtained, we have implemented the best Industry-standard experts on this.

6 What is the FoSTaC? What is the reason of joining hands with FSSAI?

During our conferences, exhibitions and other public gatherings, we came across FBOs and consumers telling us their woes on discrepancies in the training provided across the food industry. This even reached FSSAI which began drafting the process for streamlined training modules for all the business types of food industry. FoSTaC [Food Safety Training and Certification] is the solution. With different levels of training for bakery, retail, manufacturing, caterers and more, this is one of the most revolutionary regulations.

We vehemently have, and will continue to support the idea of a streamlined process – be it testing, training or operational process. Our belief is that such mandatory trainings will improve the quality and safety standards observed in any food manufacturing and serving premises exponentially.

I think we can be the extensions of FSSAI; conducting such trainings, creating awareness and informing the people. Equinox Labs has been conducting both online and offline Seminars, courses and conferences that are aimed to educate the people. FoSTaC is an all-encompassing solution that we observed and joined hands with the Apex Body for a better, safer tomorrow.

7 Tell us about your basic and advanced testing programmes.

We understand the fact that not all testing services are required for every Food Business. Which is why, we have designed Testing programmes that are best suited for every kind of food business. For eg., a milk processing unit will have to get some tests which a hotel owner might not need to.

This segregation also involves the cost, business type, number of each services, parameters under each test and more.

8 Explain us the tests involved for nutrients in the juices. What are the testing equipments involved?

To check the contamination and adulteration, there are services like Food Microbial tests, Beverage tests, Adulteration Tests, Shelf Life Analysis and Nutritional Labelling. We then go in-depth for understanding the core critical point [if any] by conducting audits, swabs, water testing as requested by the business.

Different equipments are necessary to obtain results which are then analysed. For e.g., if the pH of water used in the juice manufacturing has changed, then possible contamination of water is estimated. We suggest a combination of mandatory test services, not just for juices, but for all products to ensure maximum nutrition retention and least contamination.

9 Share with us the success story of your experience with clients.

Equinox has played a very pivotal role in understanding FSSAI norms, shelf-life and chemical studies for Raw Pressery, Danz Breade, Finger-lix, big-brewsky, Tea-Culture, and many more. At an Advisory level, they have been always looking forward at Equinox for quality, control and excellent customer service.

Equinox has facilitated us testing services that helped to serve the purpose of healthy food for all. For example, Danz Bread finds roadway to quality after getting authentic reports from Equinox. Raw Pressery certified its shelf life nutritional values after consulting Equinox. Equinox Labs helped immensely with Shelf-life testing and Nutritional break ups of Nilgai Foods. The success story goes on…

10 Tell us about the latest and modernized testing equipments.

They are as important as mandatory FSSAI regulations that are needed to upgrade the overall Food Business. The rising contamination levels have made it necessary to improve our equipments and tackle the plausible food scams.