The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), has, as on November 15, 2016, substituted the standards set out for packaged drinking water in terms of the Food Safety and Standards (Food Products Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011 (Standards Regulations).
The notification states that the substitution would come into force on or after March 1, 2017.
While it is clear that the standards for packaged drinking water are being substituted and that the new standards would have to be complied with by food business operators dealing with packaged drinking water, there appears to be an ambiguity in relation to the date on which this substitution would come into force, in view of the use of the terms ‘on or after March 1, 2017’. It is unclear as to whether the FSSAI would issue another notification prior to, on or after March 1, 2017, setting out the date on which the standards would come into force. Nevertheless, food business operators, we feel, must start compliance with the new standards as soon as possible and in any event before March 1, 2017.
Packaged drinking water, or bottled water in common parlance, is among the most regulated products in India. Justifiably so, given that water, a basic essential could cause untold damage if it is not fit for human consumption. The Indian government has therefore mandated that the products of packaged drinking water must comply with the standards prescribed both by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India and the Bureau of Indian Standards. Accordingly, packaged drinking water can only be manufactured and sold in compliance with the standards prescribed under the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 and under the certification mark of the BIS.
The BIS is a body which sets out standards in relation to various products and encourages such products to comply with the standards. A product with the BIS certification mark on it, only instils additional confidence in a consumer. It is also relevant to note that the standards prescribed by the BIS are voluntary, unless made specifically mandatory for certain products, as has been done in the case of packaged drinking water.
The FSSAI, not too long ago, issued an order in relation to bottling plants, manufacturing and selling ‘packaged drinking water’ in an unauthorised manner. The FSSAI had received multiple complaints that these concerned units have not obtained the appropriate licenses under the FSSA and the certifications from the BIS in terms of the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 1986 (proposed to be repealed by the Bureau of Indian Standards Act, 2016).
The FSSAI has, based on the various complaints made, been undertaking the required checks in relation to water bottling plants and has, during the last week, issued a press release stating that the products of Aquafina, Kinley and Bisleri are being manufactured with the appropriate licenses and certification under the FSSA and the BIS. The press note also states that such checks would continue, in relation to other water bottling plants, to ensure the availability of safe packaged drinking water.