New Delhi: Having exercised its will over packaged food companies, the food regulator is now set to control kirana stores and street vendors to enhance food safety.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) on Wednesday issued an advisory saying it has decided to ban the use of newspapers for wrapping and packing of food items, a common practice by small corner shops and street vendors.

In its advisory, FSSAI asked commissioners of food safety of all states and Union territories to take necessary steps to restrict the use of newspapers for packing, serving and storing of food items as the newspaper ink can contaminate food items leading to serious health concerns.

“Older people, teenagers, children and people with compromised vital organs and immune systems are at a greater risk of acquiring cancer-related health complications, if they are exposed to food packed in such materials," FSSAI noted in its advisory.

According to estimates by the Union housing ministry, in 2014 there were 10 million street vendors, mostly in cities. Consulting firm Boston Consulting Group estimated that there were around 12 million kirana stores in 2014-15.

“Newspapers should not be used to wrap, cover and serve food or to absorb excess oil from fried food. There is an urgent need to discourage the use of newspaper as food packaging material by creating awareness among businesses, especially, unorganized food business operators and consumers, on its harmful effects. Suitable steps need to be taken to restrict and control the use of newspapers for packing food material," the FSSAI advisory added.

The food safety regulator, however, is yet to declare imposition of penalty for non-compliance. An official at FSSAI did not want to speak on the financial implications related to the implementation of the decision on ground.

Printing ink, usually used for printing newspapers, may contain bioactive materials, harmful colours, pigments, binders, additives, preservatives, chemical contaminants and even pathogenic microorganisms that may pose potential risk to human health, according to the FSSAI advisory. “Newspapers and even paper or cardboard boxes made of recycled paper may be contaminated with metallic contaminants, mineral oils and harmful chemicals like phthalates which can cause digestive problems and also lead to severe toxicity," it added.

Wrapping food in newspapers is an unhealthy practice and the consumption of such food is injurious to health, even if the food has been cooked hygienically. “Indians are being slowly poisoned due to newspapers being widely used as food packaging material by small hotels, vendors and also in homes in lieu of absorbent paper," the regulator said.

This is the first time in recent years FSSAI is bringing a new rule relating to packaging of food items. So far, the regulator focused on setting standards for packaged food.

The Indian government has been trying to ban use of plastic bags for storage and transport of goods. The government had in October 2012 issued a notification declaring a blanket ban on use of plastic bags. But it has not been implemented as manufacturers of plastic bags moved the Delhi High Court against the order almost immediately, and the court is yet to rule on the issue.

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