04 May 2018 | Column | By NFS Correspondent
A few months ago, Noodle industry was facing disputes with Food safety authorities on matter of excess ash content in their food product. It has been reported in news that one of the adjudicating officers at state level has imposed penalty under Food Safety and Standards Act on the manufacturer for excess ‘ash content’. As per the food authorities, the samples of the noodles tested contained more ash content than the maximum prescribed limit.
These reports were shocking revelation to consumers and a number of questions come to our mind. The first and foremost, why at all should ‘ash content’ be allowed in any kind of food? Now, let us be clear, that the presence of ash does not mean that ash in a literal sense. Ash refers to any inorganic material, such as minerals, present in food. It is called ash because it is the residue that remains after removing water and organic materials such as fat and protein. Ash can include both compounds with essential minerals, such as calcium and potassium, and toxic materials, such as lead. Therefore, the presence of ash does not mean that ash in a literal sense is allowed to be added to a food product. The parameter of ‘ash content’ is important for noodle products because it is normally made of maida that does not contain outer part of the wheat which majorly contributes to ash content. That is the reason why total ash content limit for ‘atta’ is 2% but for suji, rawa and pasta products it is 1%. While testing noodle what needs to be kept in mind is that the limit is prescribed for noodle cake only and not for tastemaker.
The second question is what effect the excess ash can have on a consumer. The ash content has been reported to be in the range of 1-3% in these products. However, no need to press the panic button. It needs to be mentioned that in many standardized food items, it has been allowed in the much higher range of 5-9%. Therefore, ash content exceeding 1% does not necessarily mean that the food is unsafe and it will have an adverse impact on the consumer. It only implies that the food product cannot be named ‘noodle’ which seems to fall under a standardized food category of ‘pasta or macaroni products’.
Having understood the relevance of ‘ash content’, lets now understand the legal aspect of this dispute. Important factual aspect of these dispute is that the ‘ash content’ limit was applied not only on the noodle cake but also the tastemaker which accompanied it in the package & the violations have been reported with respect to tastemaker. The general defense of the manufacturer would be that the during the relevant time there was no standard prescribed for the tastemaker and the food analyst has wrongly applied ‘ash content’ limit on tastemaker which accompanies the noodle cake under the package.
In support of this reliance would be placed on various documents issued or circulated by FSSAI. such as, minutes of the meeting of Food Authority which reflected that the FSSAI had approved the food standards for seasoning for the first time.
Also, earlier this year FSSAI brought in amendment under Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2016 to introduce standards for seasoning for the first time wherein the parameter given is Acid Insoluble Ash in dilute HCL % (on dry basis) (Maximum); whereas, in the current set of cases ash content had been tested for total Ash on dry basis. The difference between the two is demonstrated by comparing the characteristics given for macaroni products and seasoning in following tables.
|1||Moisture||Not more than 12.5%|
|2||Total Ash||Not more than 1% on dry basis|
|3||Ash insoluble in dilute HCl (on dry basis)||Not more than 0.1%|
|4||Nitrogen||Not less than 1.7% on dry basis|
|1||Moisture % (by weight) (Maximum)||10.0|
|2||Acid insoluble Ash in dilute HCl % (on dry basis) (Maximum)||2.0|
It can be seen from the aforementioned tables that for macaroni products ash content is measured in two ways. First, total Ash basis and second, on ash insoluble in dilute HCL on dry basis. For total Ash basis limit prescribed is 1% and for Ash insoluble in dilute HCL on dry basis it is 0.1%. In contrast to this for seasoning, ash content is measured in only one way i.e., ash soluble in dilute HCL on dry basis for which limit is 2%. So, one can clearly see that there is a marked difference in the limit of ash prescribed for Macaroni products and seasoning. For macaroni products it is 0.1%; whereas for seasoning it is 2%. Therefore, in seasoning 20 times more ash content is allowed than for macaroni products where noodles and pasta are covered.
Recently, FSSAI brought in amendment in under Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2016 to introduce standards for “Instant Noodle” which clearly states that it would not apply to seasoning. This also suggest that seasoning is treated different from noodle and there are no standards for seasoning.
On the other hand, the state food safety authority would argue that they acted on the Advisory by FSSAI in 2015which prescribed 1% limit for tastemaker as well and the same has not been withdrawn till date.
In such circumstances, it appears a small clarification on part of FSSAI would settle the whole dispute. In the past FSSAI has issued a clarification in similar circumstances on the issue of declaration regarding Monosodium Glutamate wherein it had retracted from its earlier interpretation which they later thought to be incorrect. The industry would be eagerly waiting for such clarification.
With single-brand retailing making its way in India, foreign investors are seeing food processing as the next big sunrise sector in India. As more and more international F&B brands would be foraying in to Indian market, the FSSAI and other food regulatory bodies in the country should come up with clear guidelines and standardized norms to adapt with the evolving food market in India.
- Kunal Kishore, Joint Partner, Lakshmikumaran & Sridharan