Focus/Spotlight

New regulations on food safety

By Sarah Hannan

As the demand for food items increases during the festive season, the public is bound to face issues relating to food safety. Special attention needs to be given to the date of expiry marked on packaged food items, and it is compulsory that the dates of manufacture and expiry are clearly printed on such food items. With the increase in demand for food items, in many instances, even expired food are repackaged and sold in an attempt to clear old stocks.

Ministry of Health, Nutrition, and Indigenous Medicine Deputy Director General of Environmental, Occupational Health, and Food Safety Dr. Lakshman Gamlath, speaking to The Sunday Morning, stated: “Consumers need to pay special attention to the packaging. While you may be in a hurry to finish your purchase, I advise you to take a moment and have a closer look at the date of expiry of the food items you are purchasing. If a sticker is pasted obstructing the expiry date or the expiry date has been deliberately tampered with, consumers should not purchase those items.”

Dr. Gamlath further elaborated that consumers could lodge complaints with the area public health inspector (PHI) or the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) to take legal action against such vendors.

Colour-coding solid foods

“In addition to continuing with our regular food safety practices, in 2020, we will be implementing two new regulations pertaining to food safety. The first one is printing a visible label indicating the sugar, fat, and salt content of packaged food items. The colour-coding system that we introduced for beverages will be introduced to indicate the sugar, fat, and salt content in packaged food items as well,” Dr. Gamlath stated.

The regulation was rolled out in 2019, starting off with confectioneries, and will be in full effect from this year onwards for all solid food items. The colour-coding system is said to be of convenience to patients who suffer from non-communicable diseases (NCDs).

“Packaged food items include a wide array of ingredients and there is no indication of high sugar, fat, or salt content. Some food might not even taste too sweet, too oily, or too salty, but can be loaded with many such ingredients. We would be able to indicate the sugar, fat, and salt content through the traffic light system.

“So, if your doctor advises you to consume foods with less sugar, less fat, or less salt, you can pick food items according to the recommendations of your doctor,” Dr. Gamlath explained.

The colour-coding for total sugar content in solid or semi-solid foods per 100 g would be labelled as follows:

  • Red label sugar content more than 22 g per 100 g of food
  • Amber label sugar content between 5 g to 22 g per 100 g of food
  • Green label sugar content less than 5 g per 100 g of food

 

The colour-coding for total salt content in solid or semi-solid foods per 100 g would be labelled as follows:

  • Red label salt content more than 1.25 g per 100 g of food
  • Amber label salt content between 0.25 g to 1.25 g per 100 g of food
  • Green label salt content less than 0.25 g per 100 g of food

The colour-coding for total fat content in solid or semi-solid foods per 100 g would be labelled as follows:

  • Red label fat content more than 17.5 g per 100 g of food
  • Amber label fat content between 3 g to 17.5 g per 100 g of food
  • Green label fat content less than 3 g per 100 g of food

Strict regulations on hygiene

Along with increasing awareness on food safety, the Ministry of Health is also taking steps to implement strict regulations on food outlet hygiene.

“Most often, when you step into a roadside tea shop or restaurant, the front of the shop might look clean and neat, but you should always be sceptical about the hygiene levels of its kitchen area. In order to ensure hygiene guidelines are followed, all food establishments, from wayside tea shops and star-class hotel to canteens maintained in state and private institutions, will be closely monitored,” Dr. Gamlath revealed.

All such establishments are to be registered with their respective medial officer of health (MOH) with effect from 1 January onwards and inspections will be carried out periodically by the PHIs to ensure these establishments follow guidelines.

“We have also given a probation period for existing food outlets to adapt to the hygiene standards that will be introduced this year. If they fail to adapt to the hygiene standard guidelines within the year, we will not allow such establishments to continue their business and revoke their registration with the MOH office,” Dr. Gamlath concluded.