Food Hygiene in Punjab

Food safety has been a dire need of the general public especially in light of the prevailing situation of food business in countries such as Pakistan. PFA (Punjab Food Authority) was established to serve this purpose. At the same time, rights and liabilities of the opposing party must be adjudicated on the balance provided by 'Article 10A' of the Constitution. At Blackstone School of Law, we have a dedicated qualified team of legal experts providing quality legal consultation & legal services in relation to compliance with food safety standards.

What is the Punjab Food Authority?

Punjab Food Authority (PFA) is an agency of the Government of Punjab which regulates food safety and hygiene in the province of Punjab. It was formed under the Punjab Food Authority Act 2011. Enforcement of food hygiene and quality standards is carried out as described in the Punjab Food Authority Act 2011 and the Pure Food Rules 2011. It is carried out through a qualified team of Food Safety Officers (FSO) and Assistant Food Safety Officers (AFSO).

Offences under the PFA

The offenses and the corresponding penalties are set out in Chapter IV of the Act. Some important mentioned offenses include the following:

Selling Food Against Law (S.22(1))

Majority of offenses fall within heading. If someone sells or offers for sale adulterated food or food not in compliance with the relevant provisions, he/she shall be liable to imprisonment for one to six months and fine one lac to ten lac rupees.

Substandard or Misbranded Food (S.23)

Any person who manufactures any food which is substandard or misbranded, shall be liable to imprisonment for one to six months and fine one lac to ten lac rupees.

False Advertisement & False Labeling

These are covered in S.25 & S.26 of the Act. The punishments for the offenses are imprisonment for six months to a year and fine ten lac to twenty lac rupees and imprisonment for six months to a year and fine five lac to ten lac rupees.

Failure to Comply (S.27)

In case of failure to comply with any order or notice issued by Punjab Food Authority or a Food Safety Officer without reasonable cause, he/she shall be liable to imprisonment upto three months and fine upto five hundred thousand rupees.

Obstruction (S.31)

If any person, including the food operator or anyone subordinate to him, obstructs PFA's officer in the course of his/her duties, he/she can be sentenced to prison for a period upto six months & fined five thousand maximum or both under S.31.

Similarly in relation to unlawful interference with seized property, he/she may be penalized in the same manner. In case of subsequent offense, the offender is liable to be fined upto two lacs or cancellation of food license under S.34.

Note: The court can order PFA to publish information such as names, places, nature of offense or penalties via any medium to inform the general public. In addition to this, the food operator can be made liable to pay the cost for the publication.

What is the procedure followed by Punjab Food Authority?

Normally PFA's Food Safety Officers serve improvement notices upon food operators in case of failure to comply with the rules and regulations. The notice must highlight the illegalities on the part of the operator & intimate measures to secure compliance & in case of consistent failure to compliance, the agency is empowered to take any action considered appropriate including suspension or termination of the license under S.16. Furthermore under S.18, the officer can order closure of the premise with or without specifying conditions or time period for the closure. Lastly the Director General can order immediate withdrawal of food from the market in case he is satisfied that the food is not in compliance of the relevant rules and regulations under S.19. The aggrieved party in this case can make an appeal to the agency in this regard set aside or modify such an order.

What is the course of action available for the food operator?

For the food operator, there are two courses of action. He can approach either the 'appellate authority' or the 'special court'. In relation to the former, the food operator can appeal his case within fifteen days of an order of cancellation or imposition of fine.

The special court is empowered under S.45A (2) and has exclusive jurisdiction to try such matters.S.54A states that a suit or application against any proceeding or order under the Act in a civil court.  However the offender can file an appeal to the Lahore High Court. The food operator has an inherent right to be heard before an order can be passed against him by the appellate authority under S.39(3). The appeal & limitation period form an important part in the process as they determine future course of action for both the parties.

How can a food operator ensure compliance with the relevant rules & regulations?

PFA lays down science-based standards for food items and regulates their manufacture, storage, distribution, sale and import to ensure availability of safe and healthy food fit for human consumption. Furthermore under the provisions of section 15 of the Punjab Food Authority Act, 2011 every food operator is required to obtain a license to run a food business. Under rule 31 sub-rule 12 of the rules, every food license shall be renewed annually. Validity of license is from 1st January to 31st December. All the food business operators are required to be licensed. Hence the best course of action for a food operator is to apply for a license. He can further approach PFA for compliance with the necessary rules & regulations in relation to his food business.

Auhtor: M.N.Nekokara