Food Import Assistance

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Importing food products from different countries, is highly regulated and controlled by Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). FSSAI appoints Authorised Officials to check the imported food products at various ports. Food Importers have to comply with various norms to make sure that clearance is given to the imported food.

Section 25 of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 contains provisions relating to import of food articles in India and states that:

“No person shall import into India –

  1. any unsafe or misbranded or sub-standard food or food containing extraneous matter;
  2. any article of food for the import of which a licence is required under any Act or rules or regulations, except in accordance with the conditions of the licence; and
  3. any article of food in contravention of any other provision of this Act or of any rule or regulation made thereunder or any other Act.”

Further, for the purpose of streamlining the process of clearance of food in an efficient and transparent manner, FSSAI has notified the Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 on March 9, 2017 laying down provisions for import of food in India and packaging and labelling of such imported food items.

How to import food products into India?

1] Registration/ License required for import of food-
Import-Export Code (IEC)- is required for exporting and importing goods. This 10 digit code is issued by Director General of Foreign Trade (DGFT). IEC has lifetime validity. An importer cannot import without IEC similarly an exporter cannot take benefit of exports from Customs, Export Promotion Council and DGFT. When the information provided during registration changes, for instance – change in address or changes in directors or change in the entity name, etc. then modification is required. All food importers have to possess an Import Export Code to import food into India.

FSSAI Importer License- The next important step is to obtain the FSSAI license for importing food articles. All the importers need to obtain FSSAI Central License, under the Importer Category, issued by the Central Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. which will enable them to import their food products in India. The filing of right product category is required to obtain the license.

2] Product compliance as per FSSAI Guidelines-
Food Product sold in India must be in compliance with FSSAI regulations in terms of formulation, categorization, labels and claims. For the non-approved products, non-specified food approval must be obtained from FSSAI to enter the market.

All imported foods have to be packaged and labelled in accordance with Labelling and Packaging Regulations, 2011. Compliance of Food Safety and Standards (Import) Regulations, 2017 are to be done:

  • All food articles are to be transported or stored in optimal storage conditions of temperature and hygiene, packaged and labelled as per regulations applicable to that particular article of food.
  • In case of multiple foods or foods falling under different categories are packed in a single container or carton or pallet or skid, then the foods are to be packed in such a manner that they are accessible for inspection and sampling.
  • Food importers may make rectification on the labels of imported food articles only in respect of the following information:
  • Name and address of the importer
  • Logo and license number of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India
  • Non-veg or Veg Logo
  • Category or sub-category along with generic name, nature and composition for proprietory food

Such rectification may be made at the custom bound warehouse by affixing a single non-detachable sticker or by any other non-detachable method next to the principal display panel. Upon rectification, an inspection will be conducted by the Authorised Officer and if he is satisfied, may draw two samples. If the food importer fails to rectify the permissible defects, the Authorised Officer shall refuse clearance of such imported food imported articles by issuing a non-conformance certificate.

3] Shelf Life of Imported Food
Shelf life of a food article is the period between the date of manufacture of such food and the “Best Before” or “Date of expiry”, whichever is earlier, as printed on the label. Custom Authorities shall not clear any article of food unless it has a valid shelf life of not less than sixty per cent, or three months before expiry, whichever is less, at the time of import,

Sanitary Import Permit: Special permit from Department of Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries (DAHDF) under Ministry of Agriculture is required for the import of Meat and meat products, Egg and egg products, Milk and milk products, and pet food products of animal origin. Also the Department issues Sanitary Import Permit for other non-food products like bovine, ovine and caprine embryos, ova or semen, etc.

4] Food Sampling and Analysis:

  • If the Authorised Officer is satisfied that the Food Importer has complied with the provisions of Labelling and Packaging Regulations, 2011 and have valid balance shelf life, the Authorised Officer or his representatives shall draw two parts of food sample from the imported articles of food in the customs area in the presence of Food Importer or his Custom House Agent for testing the samples. Consignment of food articles which do not comply with the provisions of Labelling and Packaging Regulations, 2011 at the visual inspection will be rejected and no sample shall be drawn from such consignment.
  • The samples drawn will be sealed and the label of the sealed sample of imported articles of food shall bear the following information:
  • Code number of the sample;
  • Date and place of collection;
  • Quantity of sample;
  • Name of articles of food and category as per the Food Safety and Standards (Food Product Standards and Food Additives) Regulations, 2011.
  • Name and quantity of preservative added while drawing the sample, if any;
  • Name and signature of the Food Importer or his Custom House Agent and;
  • Name and signature of the sender with official seal.

One part of the sealed and labelled sample shall be forwarded to the food analyst and the other part shall be stored by the Authorised Officer or his representative. The food analyst shall analyse such sample and intimate to Authorised Officer whether such food is conforming or non-conforming.

5] No objection Certificate/ Non-conformance Certificate:
The Authorised Officer may issue a no-objection certificate or a non-conformance certificate;

  • If the food articles satisfy all necessary provisions and are eligible for import, the Authorised Officer shall issue a ‘no-objection certificate’ to the food importer permitting the import of such food. The no-objection certificate is valid for 30 days from receipt by the importer within which the food importer has to take out the food article from the customs area.
  • If the food article is not to be cleared for import, then the Authorised Officer shall issue ‘non-conformance’ report to the food importer specifying the grounds of refusal of import.

6] Risk Based Framework.-
The Food Authority may review the risks associated with articles of food imports from time to time and adopt a risk-based framework and risk based inspection process for clearance of imported articles of food. Steps for the risk based framework includes identification of laboratories in exporting countries for prior testing of food samples before the articles of food are imported into India and entering into entering into a Memoranda of Agreement with relevant agencies in exporting countries for accelerated clearance of food imports from the countries to facilitate ease of doing business. FSSAI may issue food alert notifications, including time bound prohibition on articles of food or prohibiting source or recalls, based on the risk associated with the articles of food.

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This information is in summary form and is therefore intended for general guidance only. It is not intended to be a substitute for detailed research or the exercise of professional judgment. Mind Sync does not accept any responsibility for loss occasioned to any person acting or refraining from action as a result of any information provided herein. On any specific matter, reference should be made to the appropriate advisor.