A Difficult Road Ahead For Restaurant Chains Under The FSSAI's Labelling Radar

Update: 2021-06-23 06:11 GMT

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ("FSSAI") is all set to extend its labelling regime to restaurant chains operating in multiple states or having outlets at 10 or more locations from 1st January, 2022. The FSSAI has included restaurant chains under its labelling regime vide notification dated 21st August, 2020 amending the erstwhile Food Safety and Standards (Packaging...

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The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ("FSSAI") is all set to extend its labelling regime to restaurant chains operating in multiple states or having outlets at 10 or more locations from 1st January, 2022. The FSSAI has included restaurant chains under its labelling regime vide notification dated 21st August, 2020 amending the erstwhile Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011 ("FSS Regulations"). The provisions encompassing restaurant chains in the said amendment was later subsumed into the newly enacted Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020 ("Regulations"), which repealed the labelling regime existed under the FSS Regulations. The Regulations require restaurant chains to furnish a variety of information to consumers against food items displayed on their menus viz., calorific value, allergen details, nutritional information, health warnings etc.

The FSSAI's move is expected to give hard trail to most of the restaurant chains as the new requirement is not just about displaying these information but about ensuring adherence to what is assured in the declaration. When specific parameters for nutritional information and calorific values are displayed, the chefs at these restaurants will be left with a laborious task to keep a watch on the ingredients and their quantity while preparing food. This becomes a pre-requisite as once you declare and breach the declared parameters, then the regulatory clutches could become active and restaurants could end up being caught for selling misbranded food which is punishable with fine up to Rs. 3 Lakhs under Section 52 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 ("Act"). This could become a real bumpy ride for these restaurants, as under Section 40 of the Act, even a consumer can have the food analyzed and set the prosecution regime under the Act in motion. Thus these provisions require the restaurants to keep a constant vigil on the foods served to ensure not being caught up in legal turmoil.

Furthermore, the FSSAI also require these restaurants to watch out if any ingredients like peanuts, tree nuts, cereals containing gluten, soybeans, milk, egg, fish etc., are used in preparation of food. The new Regulations prescribe that in such cases an allergen information needs to be provided against the food. Therefore, those at risk of food allergies can be at ease now as they are guaranteed of some indication about the potential allergens used as food ingredients. This mandatory alert was a much awaited inclusion as according to the National Health Portal, ninety percent of the food allergies are caused by aforementioned ingredients. Any failure by these restaurants to provide such information could result in food being classified as unsafe on account of being misbranded. In such cases, depending on the degree of harm caused to a consumer by such misinformation, the guilty could face punishments which may extend to life imprisonment and penalty up to ten lakh rupees as per Section 59 of the Act.

Besides allergen warnings, the FSSAI also mandates to provide for health warnings if certain ingredients are used in preparation of the food. For example, if monosodium glutamate is used in preparation of the food, then it shall be provided in the prescribed format that food contains monosodium glutamate and a warning needs to be provided that the food is not suitable for infants and pregnant women. This could help consumers to be more conscious about their eating habits and would help to avoid foods that may pose risk to their health. This new move may also compel restaurants to stop indiscriminate use of potentially harmful taste enhancers and ingredients to take their consumers into confidence and to show that the food is not just tasty but healthy as well. Any failure to provide such prescribed health warnings may result in food being classified as misbranded or unsafe depending upon the extent of harm such failure has caused to the consumer. The e-commerce food business operators like Swiggy, Zomato, UberEats etc., are required to get these mandatory information from the applicable restaurants and publish it in their portal.

These changes, for obvious reasons are not desirable for restaurants as it opens up a host of new protocols to be followed. This move would give consumers a most significant right to know about use of any potentially risky ingredient in food and to understand its possible effects on their health. The display of calorie and nutritional values could provide indicators on the quality of food served in such restaurants. Therefore, the new Regulations are expected to compel these restaurants to bring a fine balance between taste and health. The menu cards filled with alerts and disclaimers on food served will not be a desirable scenario for a consumer and an aversion created by such disclaimers can turn out to be very costly for restaurants. Therefore, new changes are also expected to bring on table some operational and marketing concerns for some large fast food restaurant chains and could compel them to recast their existing dishes and food ingredients. It is interesting now to see how these restaurants are going to acclimatize with the new regime and more importantly how effectively the FSSAI could implement these regulations.

Views are personal.



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