The trend of home-chefs has picked up with the advent of food aggregators, more so after the COVID-19 lockdown. But are these home-chefs required to register with the FSSAI? What are the rights of a Consumer and how can one search for the registered food business operators? Here are all the details.
While the COVID-19 induced lockdown devastated many industries and sectors, it did benefit a few- like the home-chefs, who started the sale of homemade biriyanis, parathas, cakes, pastries, cookies, to name a few, through social media and tie up with other food delivery networks. As the pandemic has raised safety and hygiene concerns for consumers, people chose homemade food over restaurants. Moreover, food prepared by the home-chefs turned entrepreneurs came to the rescue of many who either did not know cooking or wanting to cook. But do the same rules of registration, safety & standards that are applicable to restaurants also apply to these home-chefs? Here is a detailed review of the existing rules.
Petty manufacturers must register themselves with the concerned authority
It is necessary that such home-chefs register themselves with the concerned authority. The Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Business) Regulations being implemented since 2011 clearly lay down the rules. The Food Safety & Standards Act of 2006 governs all these regulations & guidelines.
According to these regulations, ‘petty food manufacturers’ should register themselves with the relevant registering authority online as notified by the State Food Safety Commissioner. The petty food manufacturer has been defined in the rules as someone who ‘manufactures or sells any article of food himself or a petty retailer, hawker, itinerant vendor or temporary stall holder; or distributes foods including in any religious or social gathering except a caterer’ or ‘such other food businesses including small scale or cottage or such other industries relating to food business or tiny food businesses with an annual turnover not exceeding ₹ 12 lakhs with prescribed production capacity’. In other words, those with a turnover below ₹ 12 lakh need to get registered mandatorily while those above the turnover threshold also need to get a license.
Selling without registration can attract a hefty penalty
The rules clearly mean that individuals who cook and sell food from home including home-bakers selling cakes should be registered with concerned authority by submitting the requisite ‘Form A’ after filling out details such as kind of business, location, food item and quantity, turnover, water and power source, etc. along with a registration fee. The person in the business of selling food is defined as a ‘Food Business Operator (FBO)’.
If any person is found to be carrying on the food without a registration or a license, they will be liable for penalty of up to ₹ 2 lakh as laid down in the FSS act 2006. These rules are applicable throughout the country from 2011. Bigger establishments must obtain licenses from State/Centre depending on the scale of business and turnover.
Hygiene, ventilation, continuous supply of potable water are mandatory requirements for FBOs
It is mandatory that the FBO follow the basic hygiene and safety requirements. The following are some of the important requirements to be fulfilled by FBOs.
- First and foremost, the premises must be clean, and the environment should be hygienic.
- There should be adequate lighting, ventilation and regular disinfection (should not mix with food) to keep the unit free from insects.
- Potable water should be available continuously.
- It is also necessary that equipment used be easy to clean. The equipment used, including utensils, must be made of non-toxic metals.
- The workers must be provided with hand gloves, head wears, and clean aprons. They should also maintain personal hygiene.
Similar regulations are applicable to food handlers as well. The Registering Authority should be satisfied with safety, hygiene, and sanitary conditions of the premises for the registration to be granted, that too within a month. The registration certificate and a photo identity card must be prominently displayed at the premises where the business is being carried out. An inspection may be carried out annually by the registration authority.
Non-compliance with regulation can attract fine of up to ₹10 Lakh and life-term imprisonment based on gravity of issue
If the FBO sells food that does not comply with the standards mentioned in the FSS act 2006, they are liable to a fine up to ₹ 25,000 in case of petty manufacturers, and up to ₹ 5 Lakh in case of bigger units. Manufacture and sale of sub-standard food can attract a penalty up to ₹ 5 Lakh. Based on the type of offence, the penalty & punishment vary, as per the FSS act. Major offences and extent of punishment have been given below.
What about E-Commerce FBOs?
With the advent of e-commerce, the food business has become one of the major e-commerce verticals. With this in mind, the government formulated relevant guidelines for e-commerce FBOs in 2018.
E-Commerce FBOs are those involved in online food business, be it manufacturing/ processing/ packaging/ storage/ transportation/ distribution/import of food and food services, including the food delivery applications. These FBOs should get central license from the central licensing authority, as per an amendment made to the regulations in 2018. This was done as online food delivery started gaining popularity. Further, the delivery applications must ensure that the manufacturers or sellers are compliant with the relevant provisions of the FSS Act and adhere to the rules and regulations. It is mandatory that e-commerce platform provide an option for rating/ranking the FBOs.
Food delivery platforms must ensure only FBOs complying to regulations are listed
FSSAI had directed e-commerce companies involved as aggregators or facilitators multiple times, to delist the FBOs running without license or registration. In a raid across 350 outlets listed in food delivery platforms such as Swiggy, Zomato, Foodpanda, and other similar platforms in 2018, the Food and Drug Administration, Maharashtra in Mumbai alone revealed that about one-third of them were not registered. The food served was prepared in unhygienic kitchen in about 74% of the eateries. About 10,500 restaurants were delisted by these platforms after they were found to be unregistered or unhygienic, according to a report published on the FSSAI website.
Grievances about e-commerce in food have increased manifold
A parliament response from March 2020 stated that over 1053 grievances were registered in e-commerce and food sectors with the National Consumer Helpline in 2018-19. Whereas between April 2019 and January 2020 alone, over 1955 grievances were registered, indicating an increase of 86% in just ten months. A Standing Committee on Health & Family Welfare’s report submitted in 2018, highlighted that licenses were being issued by central and state authorities even upon incomplete submission of documents. It was also noted that the rejection rate of licenses for renewal was very low. The committee also called for a review of the approvals while noting that eateries and FBOs continued to flout the regulations
What all can a consumer do?
Know your Rights: The Consumers could first understand their rights as per the relevant act. The law also states that consumers have the right to get the food/product tested in any notified lab of FSSAI. A consumer can also report to the Food Safety Department and get the sample tested.
Check if the FBO is registered: The details of the registered FBOs can be found on the FSSAI website by entering the name or the registration number of the FBO.
File a Grievance/Complaint: If a consumer is not satisfied with the food item or the eatery, they can take up the issue with the FSSAI. For this, a dedicated helpline number 1800-112-100 has been set up by FSSAI to resolve the concerns related to food including food adulteration. Other channels such as Web Portal, Mobile App, Email, WhatsApp, Twitter, and Facebook can also be used. One can also approach the state help desk. Once a complaint/grievance is received, a designated officer is assigned to examine the same.
Approach the Consumer Forum: A consumer may even approach the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission.
Featured Image: FSSAI.