Food safety hit in Kashmir with a defunct lab

The food safety in Kashmir has come under a question mark due to the setback the surveillance has taken with the lone food testing lab here lying defunct after the central regulatory authority ordered de-notification of the facility.

At Dalgate, where the food testing lab is located, the past three years saw intense activity of procurement of state-of-the-art equipment, a senior official in health department said. He said currently, machines worth over Rs 12 crore have been installed at the laboratory. In addition, he said, J&K Government has entered into a maintenance contract with the companies that have supplied the equipment. This agreement required the government to pay crores of rupees for 7 years to the suppliers, much of which stands paid. However, in the past three weeks, not a single sample has been legally tested at the laboratory.

The Public Health Laboratory Dalgate Srinagar was decommissioned by Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) in December last year and the order meant that no sample could be run for quality check at the facility.  The decision by the central regulatory authority followed the failure of J&K Drug and Food Control Organisation to apply for accreditation to National Accreditation Board of Laboratories (NABL) on or before 15 November 2020.

The senior official that Greater Kashmir spoke to said that the closure of the lab meant that public money worth crores of rupees being wasted. “We have to pay the company in any case and we are continuously doing that. Whether we put the advanced equipment to use or not reflects our commitment towards the people here and towards ensuring food safety,” he said.

Commissioner Food Safety, Shakeel ur Rehman Rather denied that the lab was “completely shut”.

“We are doing surveillance tests at the lab. If we find there is an issue, we send the sample for further testing to Jammu. In the past 20 days, 42 samples have been tested at Jammu food lab,” he said.

Rather had earlier said that the FSSAI inspection could not be carried out as the new equipment was “yet to be calibrated”. As per FSSAI, validity and the reliability of the test are under question with non-calibrated equipment.  He further said that the plan to get the samples from Kashmir division tested at Indian Institute of Integrated Medicine (IIIM) Srinagar could not take off as this lab is not mandated to test food samples by FSSAI.

Regarding the progress of accreditation process, he said, “We are expecting NABL to start the process this week only. We have completed the documentation and written to them,” he said.