Food, the essential fuel for human existence, provides the vital nutrients necessary for survival and well-being. Consequently, ensuring the safety of food in any form is paramount to safeguarding public health. Food safety thus, encompasses the proper handling practices employed throughout the food chain, from preparation to distribution
Importance of Food Safety
Safe and accessible food is essential for the well-being and prosperity of a society. Consuming contaminated food or having limited access to food can lead to serious health issues and a range of public health concerns. Between 2009 and 2018, India witnessed a staggering 2,688 foodborne disease outbreaks.
From a legal stand, the Supreme Court, in its landmark decision in Centre for Public Interest Litigation v Union of India, recognized that the right to life i.e., Article 21 of the Constitution encompasses the right to pure food. This elevated the right to pure food to the level of a fundamental right. As a result, the issue of food safety and the right to nutritious food have gained significant importance at a constitutional level.
Laws Pertaining To Food Safety In India
In India, the existing legal framework concerning food safety has undergone major changes over the years. Before Independence, provinces used to have different standards and laws for the same commodity which hindered the trade within the country. In 1954, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was introduced by the Indian Parliament to combat the widespread issue of food adulteration and to harmonize the various state-level food laws. This Act remained in effect until it was superseded by the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (FSSA). Additionally, several orders, including the Milk and Milk Products Order of 1992, the Fruit Products Order of 1955, and the Meat Food Products Order of 1973, were repealed by the FSSA.
Food Safety and Standards Act 2006
The FSSA is a comprehensive and effective piece of legislation. It has a broader scope, clearer objectives, and a more robust regulatory framework than its predecessors as it covers the entire food chain from production to distribution.
It proposed to establish the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), which would fix food standards and regulate/monitor the manufacturing, import, processing, distribution and sale of food, to ensure safe and wholesome food for the people under Section 4(1) of the Act. Apart from that, Section 23 of the Act outlines the specific requirements for food packaging and labelling, ensuring transparency and consumer awareness. Further, all imported food items are brought under its ambit under Section 25. Additionally, Section 31 of the Act deals with licensing and registration of food businesses.
Food analysis plays a crucial role in maintaining food safety, as mandated by Section 45 of the Act. Food analysts, as per Section 46, are responsible for conducting food tests and providing expert testimony in legal proceedings related to food safety. Additionally, Section 47 of the Act details the sampling procedures for food analysis, ensuring that food products undergo a thorough examination to identify any potential contaminants or hazards.
FSSAI And its Regulations
FSSAI is the apex regulatory body for food safety in the country and the Preamble to FSSA inter alia seeks to lay down science-based standards for articles of food and ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for human consumption.
The authority is empowered by Section 92 of the FSSA to frame regulations consistent with its provisions. In the exercise of such power, the authority had framed regulations such as the Food Safety and Standards (Licensing and Registration of Food Businesses) Regulations, 2011. These regulations outline food businesses’ licensing and registration requirements under the Food Safety and Standards Act of 2006. It has also framed Food Safety and Standards (labelling and display) Regulations, 2020 which specify the labelling and packaging requirements for various food products, including information on ingredients, nutritional facts, allergens, and more. Apart from this, the authority has framed regulations on vegan foods, organic foods, foods for infants etc.
When it comes to labels on food products, Section 23 as stated earlier, requires the manufacturers, distributors and sellers dealing with packaged food products to comply with regulations. The labelling regulations in this section refer to the Food Safety and Standards (Labelling and Display) Regulations, 2020. The regulation captures labelling requirements such as (i) name of food, (ii) list of ingredients, (iii) nutritional information, (iv) veg, non-veg declaration, etc.
FSSAI Registration Process
Food license or FSSAI license is granted to all food business operators as defined in Section 3 of the Act. A license is issued by the licensing authority within 60 days from the date of issue of application ID. Once the required additional information and complete application are obtained by filling up Form A and Form B on the FSSAI website coupled with multiple declarations and resolutions, a food safety officer or any other such designated person is directed to inspect the premises as required by FSSAI according to the schedule 4 of the regulations. Within 30 days of receiving the inspection report, the final approval is considered for the license which lasts a maximum of up to 5 years and must be renewed 30 days before the expiration.
Depending upon the turnover, scale of business and type of activity, enterprises are required to obtain local, state or central licenses respectively. Additionally, the license shall be premise-specific which would entail the concerned person obtaining different licenses for different locations.
Advantages and Shortcomings of the Existing Legislative Framework
The FSSA encompasses the entire food chain, from production to distribution, establishing clear objectives for ensuring food safety and wholesomeness. The establishment of FSSAI under the FSSA and its power to form regulations have paved the way for ensuring food safety in various aspects such as licensing and labelling.
However, its implementation faces challenges due to infrastructure and resource limitations, lack of awareness among consumers and food businesses, capacity limitations within the FSSAI and other food safety agencies, political interference, and inadequate testing facilities. Moreover, the “petty manufacturers, retailers and hawkers” are not subject to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulations even though such businesses make up a significant portion of the unorganised food sector, and their low prices make them a popular choice for food consumption among a large segment of the population.
Case Laws in the Light of Packaged Foods and Labels
Nestle India Limited Maggi Case
In 2015, FSSAI conducted tests on samples of Maggie wherein higher than permissible levels of lead were found and the presence of Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) was seen. The authority alleged that Nestlé had misled the consumers by declaring that their products did not contain MSG on the packages.
The label “No added MSG” was found to violate FSS (Packaging & Labelling) Regulations 2011 as it fell under the case of ‘mislabelling’ and ‘misbranding’. The company subsequently agreed to remove the label from the packet. Following the Bombay High Court’s decision to lift the ban in August 2015, Nestlé was allowed to relaunch Maggi noodles in India under the condition that the product would only be reintroduced after receiving clearance from the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Nestlé received the FSSAI’s approval in November 2015, paving the way for the resumption of Maggi noodle sales in the country.
In this case, when the complainants cut open the Sachet/aluminium foil wrapping of the Chocolate, they found that the worms were coming out of the Chocolate bar. They also obtained a Report and got it confirmed that the Cadbury Chocolates purchased by them were infested and that consumption of such Chocolates was dangerous to human life.
The commission held the manufacturer was liable as it was not able to provide goods of good quality and consequently, damage was caused to the consumers. The FSSAI declared that the packaging was not appropriate and directed the company to alter the packaging.
In P Dillibabu v. ITC, the complainant had bought a packet of Sunfeast Marie Light biscuits (a brand of biscuits owned by the ITC). He found the packet to be containing only 15 biscuits instead of 16 biscuits as declared by the label on the packet.
ITC argued that biscuits are sold by weight, and each packet of Sunfeast Marie Light biscuits clearly indicated a net weight of 76 grams. However, the consumer court found that each pack containing 15 biscuits actually weighed only 74 grams. ITC also cited the Legal Metrology Rules of 2011, which allow for a weight discrepancy of up to 4.5 grams in pre-packaged goods but the court rejected this argument, stating that such exemptions primarily covered volatile products and did not apply to biscuits, which do not lose weight over time.
On August 29, 2023, the consumer court ruled in favour of the complainant, ordering ITC to compensate him with $1,200 for engaging in unfair trade practices. The court also instructed ITC to discontinue the sale of the particular batch of biscuits involved.
Danisco (India) Private Limited v. Union of India
This is a case prior to the enforcement of the FSS (labelling and display) regulations, in 2020. Herein, an importer sought a No Objection Certificate (NOC) for a microbial culture intended yogurt production. The authorities denied the NOC due to the absence of ingredient labelling on the product, citing Regulation 2.2.2 of 2011 regulations.
The Delhi High Court ruled that an industrial user purchasing food items for production purposes falls outside the definition of “consumer” under Section 3(1)(f) of the Act. Consequently, food products not intended for direct human consumption but for sale to industrial users for food manufacturing are exempt from the “pre-packaged” or “pre-packed food” classification and the same terms of compliance cannot be used.
The 2011 regulations did not cover products meant for intermediary purposes which led to confusion as in the above case. This ambiguity was addressed by the 2020 regulations which specified the labelling requirements for ‘non-retail containers’ and ‘food additives.’
Tata Chemicals Ltd. vs State of U.P.
Herein, legal action was initiated against the petitioner, TATA Chemicals Ltd., following the confiscation of a packet of ‘TATA SALT’ that also included the phrase “HAVE YOU TRIED? TATA I-SHAKTI PULSES.” While the salt itself conformed to the standards established in the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011, the statement on the aforementioned packet was found to violate the Packaging Regulations. It was held to be a case of ‘misbranding’ by the Adjudicating officer. The petitioner approached the High Court to squash the order of the officer which had imposed a penalty of Rs. 1,25,000.
The Allahabad High Court gave the verdict in favour of the petitioner and held that “unless the product printed on the label is related to the food contained in the packet, there can be no misbranding.” Consequently, provisions related to ‘misbranded food’ will have no application.
Ms Dharampal Satyapal Ltd And Anr vs Food Safety Officer
In 2022, complaint proceedings were initiated against the manufacturer of “Royal Zafrani Zarda”, a flavoured chewing tobacco product. The lower courts took cognizance of the matter and held that there was sufficient material to proceed against the petitioner. Furthermore, they held that the issue at hand was not of a pure tobacco product.
The Delhi High Court ruled in favour of the petitioner and held that the lower courts were wrong in putting heavy reliance on the ingredients of the product and had ignored the portion of the Report of the Food Analyst wherein it was specifically mentioned that the product was a flavoured chewing tobacco. Moreover, upon being declared as a tobacco item, the concerned product would immediately fall under the provisions of the Cigarettes and Other Tobacco Products Act, 2003.
M/S. Foodlever India Pvt. Ltd vs Senior Inspecting Officer
In this case, the respondent refused to draw samples from imported chocolate for the reason the labelling, printed directly on the packaging, omitted essential information such as manufacturing and expiry dates, net weight, manufacturer and importer details, batch number, and ingredients. Instead, this information was provided on a sticker affixed to the original packaging. Due to these labelling deficiencies, the chocolate could not be subjected to the necessary safety and quality assessments.
The court gave the verdict in favour of the petitioner and held that according to Section 3(1)(z) of FSSA, a “label” encompasses any tag, brand, mark, pictorial or other descriptive matter that is written, printed, stencilled, marked, embossed, graphic, perforated, stamped, or impressed on or attached to a food package’s container, cover, lid, or crown. Therefore, it is evident that the necessary information can be conveyed through a sticker affixed to the container, cover, lid, or crown of any food package.
Further, any deficiencies in the labelling which is of a rectifiable nature can be addressed by providing the necessary information via affixing a label containing the necessary information.
The FSSA and labelling regulations play a crucial role in ensuring the safety and quality of food products for consumers. In essence, they provide a framework for food manufacturers and processors to adhere to strict standards of sanitation, production practices, and labelling requirements. The legislation in India has reformed to keep pace with the changing requirements of the modern time, shifting focus from solely on adulteration to the entire food chain from manufacturing to distribution. The FSSAI stands as a guardian of public health, ensuring that the food consumed by India’s vast population is safe, nutritious, and of high quality. It has jumped to the scene whenever necessary be it in the case of Maggie or Cadbury India. It continues to frame regulations that address the changing legal landscape and the ambiguities in the framework. However, shortcomings such as infrastructural issues and lack of consumer awareness hinder the proper enforcement and implementation of the FSSA and its regulations in place.
 Akshay Bisht, Manoj P. Kamble, Pritesh Choudhary, Kartikey Chaturvedi, Gautam Kohli, Vijay K. Juneja, Shalini Sehgal, Neetu Kumra Taneja, ‘A surveillance of foodborne disease outbreaks in India’ (2020) 121 Food Control
 Centre for Public Interest Litigation v Union of India, W.P. (Civil) No. 546 of 2020.
 As per Food Safety And Standards (Licensing And Registration Of Food Businesses) Regulations 2011
 M/S Nestle India Limited vs The Food Safety And Standards Authority of India W.P. (L) No. 1688 of 2015 (13/08/2015, Bombay High Court).
 Sri Rajanesh R.Swamy And Baby vs M/S. Cadbury India Limited Complaint No. 13 of 2001 (28/10/2005, Karnataka State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission).
 Ram Sundaram, ‘ITC asked to pay compensation of Rs 1 lakh, one biscuit less than mentioned in packet’ (The Times of India, 6 September 2023) <https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/chennai/one-biscuit-less-than-mentioned-in-packet-itc-asked-to-pay-compensation-of-1-lakh/articleshow/103407096.cms> accessed 15 November 2023.
 Danisco (India) Private Limited v. Union of India AIR 2015 (NOC 219) 89.
 Tata Chemicals Ltd. vs State of U.P. AIR 1994 All 66.
 Ms Dharampal Satyapal Ltd And Anr vs Food Safety Officer, 2022/DHC/005518.
 M/S.Foodlever India Pvt. Ltd vs Senior Inspecting Officer W.P. No. 2, 2027 of 2012 (Madras High Court, 16/03/2012).
This article is written and submitted by Rahul Ranjan during his course of internship at B&B Associates LLP. Rahul is a BBA LLB 2nd year student at National Law University Odisha.