Concerned by the increased consumption of foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) by school going children, the government has initiated regulation on the kinds of food that are being made available to children in and around the schools.
The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 (“Act”) is a statute on food safety and regulation in India. FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) is the body responsible for protecting and promoting public health through the regulation and supervision of food safety. The draft Food Safety and Standards (Safe food and healthy diets for School Children) Regulations, 2019 (“Regulation”) released in November 2019, intends to regulate all meals provided at schools to ensure that it is safe and healthy for children.
The draft Regulation makes the new rules applicable to the following kinds of schools (note- its agnostic to type & applies to schools run by private entities, local bodies, government or aided by government):
(v) Day-care/crèche; or
“School meals” refers to all foods & beverages sold or supplied on the school campus through canteens/school mess/hostel kitchens/vending machines or any other method and include all meals served through mid-day meal kitchens and catered for students by the school.
The notification makes registration/licensing of the following entities mandatory:
(i) Schools selling or catering school meals by itself in the school campus is required to be registered as a “Food Business Operator” (FBO). This means that schools having its own kitchen and serving meals whether free of cost or on a chargeable basis shall be liable to register themselves as an FBO.
(ii) Any School Authority entering into a contract or transaction with FBOs selling or catering school meals shall ensure that such FBOs are registered or licensed; and
(iii) The Department of School Education shall ensure that all FBOs contracted by it for operation of the Mid-Day Meal scheme are registered or licensed.
General Guidance for Providing Safe and Wholesome Food to Children
The draft Regulation provides general guidelines for selection of foods for children at schools. These are:
The school menu is required to include 75-80% of healthy foods such as cereals, millets, pulses, milk, milk products, egg, meat and fish, fruits and vegetables, oils, fats, nuts and oilseeds and such other cooked foods.
Foods such as desserts, packed foods, bakery products, beverages (packed soups and juices) can be given occasionally in small portions.
Foods which are referred to as foods high in fat, salt and sugar (HFSS) are discouraged and cannot be given or sold to school children in school canteens/mess premises/hostel kitchens or within 50 meters of the school campus.
HFSS foods include deep fried foods such as french fries, fried chips, samosa, chola bhatura, gulab jamun etc. sugar sweetened carbonated or non-carbonated beverages, ready to eat food, noodles, pizzas, burgers, confectionery items, sugar and sugar based products etc.
These draft Regulations have been published and public objections/opinion has been sought. These will be enforceable only after they are formally notified by the FSSAI. Until then, schools can prepare to adopt a cautious and sustained effort towards eliminating junk food from campuses.