Now, all local packaged foods will be certified by a food testing lab, the first of its kind in Bhutan which is at the last stage of accreditation.
The process to certify the lab which is located at Yusipang has come a long way since its initiation in 2008. It comprises food chemistry, microbiological and biotech units from which the first two are fully functional.
The focal person of food safety, Bhutan Agriculture and Food Regulatory Authority (BAFRA), Gem Bidha said that in a few months it will be certified.
The aim of putting the lab in place is “to build the technical capacity in the country for food and agriculture products”, she said.
Samples of food and agriculture products will be analyzed by the lab, especially exports and imports.
BAFRA regularly collects food samples such as grocery items, pre-packed and packaged food items every month from all the dzongkhags to get the database recording system for categories of food.
Food is inspected based on type since certain foods are high-risk and while others are low-risk, said Sr. Regulatory and Quarantine Officer of BAFRA, Dr Chador Wangdi.
Data base recording started a year ago mainly to aid in the procedure of policy and decision making on food safety.
Hotels, groceries, food processing units, and agro or water bottling industries are inspected to see if they meet required standards of hygiene and food safety, said Gem Bidha.
BAFRA is also supporting hygienic and safe street food program.
Currently BAFRA is following Codex international standards, the highest decision making body for international food safety standards.
But now, the authority along with Bhutan Statistical Bureau (BSB) has set up a technical committee which is working on developing standards for local foods.
Also according to rules, any food product sold in country has to be labeled either in English or Dzongkha.
The food labeling rule has been in circulation since 2008 yet not been implemented. The reason stated was that despite many meetings being held with stakeholders, private companies had objections since the rule had implications on their business.
Moreover, we also had to look at economic considerations, said Gem Bidha.
But she said BAFRA has decided to implement the rule anyway though it may make some concessions.
As per the law, consumers have the right to know what they eat, therefore to facilitate and implement this right, foreign products are to be checked for their date of manufacture and expiry and the ingredients have to be known to customers.
These rules are also to avoid import of substandard products into Bhutan since the majority of products are being imported, said Dr Chador Wangdi.
BAFRA’s achievements include Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) and International Standard for Standardization (ISO) 22,000 food safety management systems initiated with the food establishments. So far two HACCP food systems have been certified and four ISO certified with technical support from United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).
The food testing lab was also established with assistance from UNIDO.