Punjab mulls banning unpacked food, beverages

Food watchdog to take up several proposed regulations at board meeting today


Rameez Khan February 13, 2017
A shopkeeper sells unpacked spices at his shop in Sargodha. Sale of loose food is a routine all over the country. PHOTO: FILE

LAHORE: In a massive, phase-wise exercise to implement global food safety standards, food authorities are planning to introduce regulations against the sale of loose edible items across Punjab.

In its board meeting today (Monday), the Punjab Food Authority is likely to mull over several proposals, including a ban on the sale of unpacked food that is sold routinely all over the country. The decision has been taken to ensure quality and to stop the sale of substandard food items.

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According to insiders, a draft of the regulations to be tabled before the PFA board has been finalised after three months of deliberations with a scientist panel and is said to be an amalgamation of three separate food standards recognised around the world.

The board meeting will be presented with a hefty agenda of around 20 items related to regulations, expansion of PFA and financial approvals. The government has also selected a new chairman for the food watchdog that will be announced soon, the sources said.

Packed products

Under the proposed regulations, the PFA will give five years to all milk sellers to end the sale of loose milk as well as converting to selling pasteurised milk. After five years, the authority will ban the sale of unpacked milk via a notification and will only allow the sale of pasteurised milk.

“We are aware of the hardships involved in the transition,” PFA Director-General Noorul Amin Mengal said while talking with The Express Tribune.  “Milk sellers with a few animals can join hands with other small vendors to form an alliance for dividing the cost of pasteurisation.”

He added the food authority was also bringing in a ‘pasteurisation law’ to regulate the pasteurised milk sector.

The PFA plans to give 18 months to the wholesalers of spices and tea for stopping the sale of loose products. The move has, however, evoked a strong opposition from the dealers, who have termed the decision a bid to promote the ‘big fish’ and flush out small businessmen.

Cooking oils

The oil and ghee industry will be given three years to reduce trans fats content in products from up to 15% to just 5%. While trans fats can make food taste good and make it last longer in stores, they can cause heart disease and lead to metabolic problems.

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A PFA officer told The Express Tribune the oil and ghee sector was previously maintaining trans fats content up to 50% that was potentially lethal for heart patients.

Since the international standard for trans fat in oil is only 5%, she said the PFA had already notified the acceptable level of trans fat to 10% to 15%. In three years, the industry will be forced to bring it down to 5%, according to the proposed regulation.

The authority has also decided to ban the sale of the four types of cooking oils that were earlier allowed to be sold unpacked while the sale of the rest was barred.

The new regulations will also set mandatory standards for fortification of oil and wheat, keeping in view the height and growth disorders of the local population. Levels of vitamin A and D have been specified for oil whereas the levels of folic acid, iron, zinc and vitamin B12 have been specified for wheat.

Egg and fish

For the first time, eggs and fish have also been put on the regulations table, which also includes new rules on types of bottled water. Eggs and water will be forced to be kept in chilled storage at all sale points and cannot be left out in the sun, PFA officials said.

The officials believed it was important to set standards at the sale point or food safety could not be ensured. Several other aspects for eggs and fish have been included in the regulations to keep a check on this highly unregulated market.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 13th, 2017.

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