Mumbai: In a first of its kind initiative in India, hotels, restaurants and eateries in Maharashtra will soon have to make a mandatory mention of the 'calorie count' of all the food items served to the patrons on grounds of health and helping the customers make informed choices of food articles, a top official said here on Monday.
"To begin with, it will be applicable to all 5-star hotels and chain restaurants in the state. Gradually, it will cover all other eating places of every kind," Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Pallavi Darade told this agency.
However, she added that the calorie count would need to be "approximate for specific items on the menu, though the government would not insist on any laboratory tests" for indicating the exact calorie count.
According to an official at the Mantralaya, the unprecedented move follows a detailed policy document prepared by the FDA a few months ago which was submitted to the state government for consideration, and it is likely to be passed by the Cabinet soon.
"We have already held detailed discussions with the industry associations and other stakeholders on how to make this possible before finalising the policy. We are expecting it to be a trend-setting initiative for safeguarding peoples' health," said the official, requesting anonymity.
It may be recalled that last year, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had expressed similar plans of limiting the maximum trans-fat content in vegetable oils, ghees and hydrogenated vegetable oils to 2 per cent by weight to achieve its goal of making India 'trans-fat free by 2022'.
Explaining the rationale behind the move, Darade said that many a times a person is completely unaware of how much one is eating, but with at least the approximate calorie counts mentioned, it would enhance peoples' choices and improve their health.
Raising the issue at a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) conclave on Monday, she said that calorie count will help consumers guard against diseases like diabetes, hypertension, obesity etc.
"HFSS (high fat, salt and sugar) foods have direct relation to obesity, hypertension, diabetes and cardio-vascular/heart diseases. That is why we want to control high calorie foods. People can decide whether to have them once a month or more. These informed choices will substantially slash the risks of such diseases," Darade said.
The rule will be first applicable to 5-star hotels and chain restaurants, including popular fast food joints such as Subway, multinational and domestic pizza and burger outlets and those selling specialised foodstuffs.
The authorities would then proceed to the next level which will comprise 4-star, 3-star and 2-star hotels and graded restaurants etc. so that the benefits of informed food choices reach the largest possible segment of the population.
Darade said at the CII meet that the state FDA's recent study on the health status of students in 20 schools brought out shocking results.
"Nearly one-third (30 per cent) were suffering from diabetes or hypertension, and the problem identified was the food served in the school canteens. Later, we developed a 'food pyramid' and suggested the best diet that school canteens could serve. Now we are implementing this in over 500 schools in the state," Darade said.
She also said that obesity was rampant even among the adolescent.
The FDA has also advised over two dozen schools/colleges to shift to healthy menus while the mid-day meal schemes too are implementing various parameters like hygiene etc., she said.