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SPHL on way to overhaul towards food safety

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GUWAHATI, June 9: It augurs well that at a time when news of adulterated food stuffs and of fruits and vegetables being ripened within a night’s time using carbide by unscrupulous people are making headlines, the authorities concerned have initiated measures to provide teeth to the only institute of the northeastern region meant for the purpose of testing food. This laboratory tests various food items on an annual basis. In fact, this upgrade process was long time due insofar as this oldest laboratory – State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) – of the region is concerned.

The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has already signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the State Public Health Laboratory (SPHL) Assam in this regard. The State Public Health Laboratory functions under the Commissioner of Food Safety.

A highly placed source of the laboratory has informed The Sentinel that as a part of the sanctioned Rs 8.05 crore upgrade package, FSSAI has already released Rs 4 crore in the first stage. The complete upgrade is expected to be completed within July this year.

Of the sanctioned Rs 8.05 crore, three sophisticated tools would be installed at the SPHL at a cost of Rs 5.05 crore. The remaining amount would be utilized for the upgrade of the present infrastructure of the laboratory. The tools would be installed within the next six months.

One of the tools is LC-MS/MS or Liquid Chromatography with Tandem Mass Spectrometry system. It is a powerful analytical technique that combines the separating power of liquid chromatography with the highly sensitive and selective mass analysis capability of triple quadruple mass spectrometry. The other tool is the GC-MS/MS systems or Gas Chromatography-Mass Spectrometry systems, which is also known as the GCMS systems. It utilizes a powerful combined technique that gives a higher level of substance identification of volatile chemicals than can be achieved by either system individually. Gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC/MS) is an instrumental technique, comprising a gas chromatograph (GC) coupled with a mass spectrometer (MS), by which complex mixtures of chemicals may be separated, identified and quantified. The third tool is IC MS/MS tool or ion chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry.

Altogether 693 samples of various categories of food stuff in Assam have been tested in the SPHL from April 1, 2016 to March 31, 2017. Of this list, 19 have been misbranded while 66 samples have been marked as substandard and 22 samples have been identified as unsafe. From April 1, 2017 to March 31, 2018, altogether 633 samples have been tested. Of these, misbranded items were 21, sub-standard items were 29, and 21 others have been marked as unsafe.
The laboratory is one of the oldest in the country. It was established in the pre-Independence period. It caters to the needs of entire Northeast India.