Monday, May 31, 2010


Pesticide residues are frequently blamed for many food contamination episodes while fumigants used to preserve food grains also leave residues not easy to monitor due to low levels of their presence. The pesticide residue controversy in India a few years ago led to the setting up of limits for a variety of chemical residues in water and beverages. Having done this the need for establishing adequate and appropriate testing facilities did not receive the attention it deserved to protect the consumers. The advent of mass spectrometry has provided the much needed precision tool for tackling the residue hazards.

"The Flexar SQ 300 MS system combines efficient chromatographic separation with mass spectrometry detection capabilities and is designed for analysts seeking a fast, accurate and robust system to quickly identify and quantify compounds. The mass detection system provides a rugged ion source design and wide molecular weight detection range for high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) and ultra-high performance liquid chromatography (UHPLC) applications. Suitable for use in the pharmaceutical and chemical industries, the Flexar SQ 300 MS platform enables efficient and reliable ionisation of compounds in both positive and negative modes for the efficient analysis of a range analytes. For food and environmental testing applications, a patented multi-stage ion path allows for multi-residue analysis with high limits of detection sensitivity. Moreover, advanced Collision Induced Dissociation (CID) technology enables fragmentation for further confirmation of molecular structure. Flexar SQ 300 MS offers ease of switching between the Ultraspray ESI and Field-free APCI ion sources and fast interchangeability of probes".

If the country is too much concerned about the dangers posed by dangerous chemicals being used in food production, preservation and processing, investment on analytical facilities to track them in time is imperative. The mass spectrometer like the one offered above may cost a fortune to buy, install and operate but no cost is too high when it comes to safeguarding the health of the citizen.



The bacteria Escherichia coli, mostly associated with fecal sources, has been used as a marker organism for years to detect contamination of water and foods with undesirable and pathogenic organisms. By itself E.coli is a harmless organism not known to pose any serious hazard to humans. Emergence of the virulent form of this species E. coli 0157:H7 changed the food safety scenario dramatically and it is one of the most dreaded pathogens by the food industry. Major focus was directed to make food products including fresh produce free from contamination by this strain through rigid and elaborate quality control procedures in the organized food industry. While tons of information has been generated during the last one decade on E.coli 015:H7, emergence of other virulent strains of this organism did not catch the attention of food safety experts till the recent episode in the US involving them tainting lettuce causing some damage.

"But as everyone focused on controlling that particular bacterium, known as E. coli O157:H7, the six rarer strains of toxic E. coli were largely ignored.Collectively, those other strains are now emerging as a serious threat to food safety. In April, romaine lettuce tainted with one of them sickened at least 26 people in five states, including three teenagers who suffered kidney failure. Although the federal government and the beef and produce industries have known about the risk posed by these other dangerous bacteria for years, regulators have taken few concrete steps to directly address it or even measure the scope of the problem.For three years, the United States Department of Agriculture has been considering whether to make it illegal to sell ground beef tainted with the six lesser-known E. coli strains, which would give them the same outlaw status as their more famous cousin. The meat industry has resisted the idea, arguing that it takes other steps to keep E. coli out of the beef supply and that no outbreak involving the rarer strains has been definitively tied to beef".

As comprehensive information on these new virulent strains is not available, regulators and the industry are in a fix regarding the need for making processing regimes more stringent to eliminate any risk posed by these microorganisms in meat products and refrigerated fresh produce. Meat industry is especially vulnerable because of innumerable past instances of meat contamination involving E.coli 015:H7 but it seems the industry is satisfied with the existing processing schedules that can also destroy other virulent strains. Probably this needs verification and confirmation by the safety authorities.


Saturday, May 29, 2010


Regular food purchase is a routine experience, some times monotonous, not liked by every one though the modern super markets and hyper markets try to to make it interesting by the very ambiance provided by them. The old practice of carrying a cloth bag to the market and returning with different type of foods, all clubbed together, has given way to walking through the market isles with a trolley or a carry basket, picking up the desired items and packing them in thin disposable plastic carry bags at the cash counter after billing for ferrying them to the kitchen. While those needing low temperature storage get transferred to refrigerators and freezers, others are stored in the pantry using rigid bottles for repeat use. Though the whole activity is a part of regular house hold activity, there can be some science behind it is not known to many. Here is take on that.

"Once at the store clean your cart. Wipe the handles with your wipes. It will help prevent transferring those bugs from your hands to the food you're buying. Don't forget to wipe your hands again on the way out. Shop in the middle of the grocery store first. This is generally where you'll find drinks and packaged goods which can sit in your cart for a while and be fine. Then head to the produce and bulk food aisles next. Save things that need to be refrigerated for last. Keep frozen foods together. Separate meat, poultry, and other items in your cart to avoid cross contamination. Give cleaning supplies their own area and make sure items kept apart are bagged separately. Once you're home put items away as soon as possible. Put perishables in the fridge or freezer. They can begin to spoil in as little as an hour. Put items in the right place. Milk should go in the back where it's coldest. Keep old containers no more than a week after the sell-by date. Keep eggs in their carton in the back of the fridge too and not on the door. Don't overstuff your fridge and freezer. Allowing room for air to circulate ensures things stay cold enough. Also, don't stack meats on top of each other in the freezer. Use the "first in, first out" rule. Store new items in your pantry in the back. Use the oldest unexpired products in the front first".

How far such a meticulous regimen can be practiced in a country like India is a matter of conjecture, though some may be doing it more or less the same way as propounded above. It is the duty of the retailers to educate the consumer about the importance of food safety and economy so that wastes and safety mishaps are avoided. May be such desirable practices can be promoted by the retailers association through regular programs in the electronic media for wider dissemination. Such activities can become a part of the social responsibility of the business sector and the better image and impact through such programs will be worthy of the money spent.


It is surprising that even in countries with very high level of literacy and IT enabled accessibility to information there exists a need to educate the population on vital areas like food hygiene and safety. With the preoccupation with day to day chores in a fast paced life style, people seem to have less inclination and time to absorb the basics of food safety so that they can save themselves from the dangers of food related poisoning and other health risks. The US Department of Agriculture which is primarily concerned about fresh produce and animal food products safety in that country is pioneering a new initiative that will take the information to the door steps of the consumers, stressing the importance of adopting practices that can preempt food related afflictions.

"The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) today launched the USDA Food Safety Discovery Zone, a 40-foot long interactive, hands-on food safety learning experience bringing food safety information to towns and cities throughout the nation. This exciting new educational center on wheels is designed to improve public food safety awareness and behavior. The goal is to prevent foodborne illness by emphasizing the USDA's Be Food Safe messages: Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill".

Unfortunately in a country like India, no one seems to be so much concerned about food safety though organized industry, being accountable, does adopt sound technological practices to deliver their products in reasonably safe condition. As has been realized world over no matter how efficient government agencies are in exercising vigilance in food front, the ultimate responsibility rests with the consumer to take the right decision in buying right foods. Government has a role in educating and equipping the consumer with the wherewithal to do this task. Probably GOI may wash off its hands under the pretext that food is a state subject putting the onus on the state administrative set ups. If so, why should there be central ministries on agriculture, food, consumer affairs, food processing etc doing practically nothing in the area of consumer education? During nineteen sixties and seventies, Food and Nutrition Board of GOI had community canning centers in many states "teaching" house wives the art and skill of packing seasonal fruits and vegetables and no one hears about such activities nowadays. Besides reviving such mobile awareness programs, there must also be a collective effort to incorporate effective food and hygiene information capsules in school curricula at a fairly early stage so that future citizens grow up fully aware of the need to exercise caution while scouting for safe foods.


The propensity of the food processing industry to flood the market with high caloric density foods is often cited as the main reason for all the ills experienced by populations all over the world, especially in rich countries with high per capita income. Though collectively the industry knows this bitter truth, at individual level the market is driven by the insatiable consumer demand for food products that give highest sensory pleasure. Recent reports that the international Mexican food chain Taco Bell, with thousands of outlets across the world has launched a $ 2 "meal" loaded with calories and fat at unacceptable levels, is a typical example of playing to consumer demand for low cost foods with "satisfying" organoleptic quality. Probably this fast food chain could have given some attention in balancing the new low cost "meal" in terms of various nutrients and calories. It is here that the food industry is perceived to be irresponsible vis-à-vis their social commitment and this is precisely the area the American authorities are trying to instill some voluntary restraints on them.

"Sixteen of the top U.S. food and beverage manufacturers announced yesterday they will work toward removing 1.5 trillion calories from the American diet annually by 2015, with a total of 1 trillion to be cut by 2012. The pledge to cut major calories from food products is an agreement between the Partnership for a Healthier America, an independent, nonpartisan organization, and The Healthy Weight Commitment Foundation, a coalition of 80 of the nation's largest retailers, non-profits and food and beverage companies. First Lady Michelle Obama, who is leading a national effort to solve the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation, praised the agreement at a White House press event yesterday, during which the announcement was made".

The fact that this feat was possible because of the proactive interest of the "First Lady", without any official authority, speaks well for the changing attitudes amongst some of the leading industry players who partook in such an historical event. The commitment is in gross terms and how much effect it will have at the consumer level is some thing one can only guess. Also debatable is whether focusing only on calories will have any impact while the necessity for the industry to widen its product base to include more options of balanced foods has been over looked. Nonetheless it is a welcome beginning and such initiatives must come from responsible public personalities in other countries also. One can only hope that the "historical event" at the White House will have snow balling effect across the world.


Thursday, May 27, 2010


Indians are familiar with the socialistic system of governance which implies that wealth must be distributed amongst common people and the gap between the rich and the poor must be reduced progressively. Under such a dispensation the state owned enterprises are supposed to generate wealth, not allowing private players to exploit the resources for individual gains. Nationalization was touted as the single most creditable achievement and investing in public sector considered most appropriate for wealth distribution. Unfortunately the bitter experience of four decades of socialistic pattern of governing literally ruined the country and India had to sell its gold reserves two decades ago, to stay afloat as a viable economy cannot be easily forgotten. The economic liberalization gave the required spark for private entrepreneurship to bloom with state withdrawing from many manufacturing and service sectors during nineteen nineties. If India is considered an economic power to day, it is due to this transformation from government controlled regime to free wheeling policies encouraging private initiatives in most of the areas of economic activities. Against such a background, it is baffling how a country like Venezuela can go for massive nationalization under what ever pretext. Obviously the results cannot be different from what India had experienced earlier. Refusing to learn from history can be cost prohibitive for the people of this hapless country.

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's leftist administration on Saturday threatened grocers with expropriation if they engage in speculation or price-fixing and said it was getting into the food business to put the people in charge. "We're going to continue fighting to build a socialist order to provide room for people to have social ownership of production and distribution systems," Vice President Elias Jaua said on opening the "Socialist Meat Fair" in Caracas. Jaua said the president "is empowered by law... to seize and expropriate wholesale, refrigeration and distribution businesses that resort to usury, hoarding and speculation, as mandated by the constitution."

In the food sector, government intervention cannot be justified because of the logistics, dynamics and dynamism required for efficient production, processing and distribution and creating government controlled industrial enterprises can become epicenter of inefficiency and corruption as has been exemplified by events in some of the communist and socialist countries of yesteryear. The Agro-industry Corporations, NAFED, State Farms, Modern Bakeries, Bacon Factories and many similar government enterprises in India are standing examples to prove that "doing business is not governments' business". The tragedy in Venezuela is going to be compounded by the reality that rulers may come and go but the damages done by them during their reign through such unwise policy decisions will be felt for years to come affecting the welfare of their population.


Playing around with words can be a good business as is being realized and practiced by many leading food companies across the world ignoring the impact of such "devious" promotion of products on the consumer. It is not for nothing that labeling regulations are increasingly being tightened to reduce consumer misunderstanding and confusion. Ethically and morally industry should not resort to exploitation of loopholes in the law to make a fast buck at the expense of the consumer. But expecting voluntary restraint from the business enterprises with over focus on profit can be frustrating leading many observers to conclude that stringent mandatory regulations only can save the consumer from gross exploitation and misery.

"In precision farming, satellite imagery is used to identify various levels of soil nutrients of a given field to determine fertilizer requirements for different areas of that field. Also known as "variable rate technology" (VRT), this allows the farmer to pinpoint which areas of the field need more or less fertilizer, instead of blanketing the entire field with one big dose. "Consumers aren't necessarily aware that (precision agriculture) is not new," said Charlotte Vallaeys, food and farm policy analyst at The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based organic industry watchdog. "It's more of a cost-saving practice for farmers, not an environmentally friendly or sustainable method of production, but that's how (Sara Lee) is marketing it," she added". Another point of confusion for consumers is in the term 'natural' which splays across the label in bold print: "Eco-Grain 100 % Natural." "The term 'natural' on products like bread is not regulated by state or federal government," said Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at New York University. "Companies that use the term 'all natural' essentially come up with their own definition." "'Natural' can mean anything," Vallaeys said. "Because there's no legal definition, there's no third-party verification or legal protection."

Taking the example of VRT, using these words in the label has no meaning as far as a layman is concerned and such a tactic may be just to impress the buyers about sophisticated technology deployed by the producers who supply the raw materials to the processing industry. Similarly use of the word "natural" is widely abused by the industry as it is a terminology having lost its meaning long ago. How a "natural" food is different from those labeled "organic" is a matter of conjecture and probably this practice is resorted to overcome the stringent requirements for declaring any food organic on the label. One can only wonder as to when the food industry is going to respect the rights of the consumers to be transparent vis-a-vis label declaration.


Health food industry is a multi billion dollar globally established business that exploits the desire of human beings to look and feel healthy and happy by consuming their specially designed food products. It is a paradox that more a consumer becomes aware of health and nutrition larger will be business for the food industry that churns out so called health foods! Food industry does not realize that all foods manufactured by them should be healthy and special foods are needed only for those suffering from one or the other ailments in life. To what extent the industry will go to exploit the health sentiments for garnering an extra buck is illustrated by a recent illuminating report.

"Hardly a week goes by without an announcement telling consumers to eat a certain food to avoid cancer or heart disease, or live longer. Even statistics from the US, the home of fast-food, show a major decrease in soft drink and fast food sales. The food industry is a business like any other, and the more nutrients, vitamins and minerals forced into an everyday product, the better its chances of being on every office desk come the end of the week. Here we list some of the known, unknown and bizarre products to consider adding to food today to attract the more health-conscious buyer".

Some of the ingredients like Seaweed, Wheat grass, Spirulina, Hemp, Coconut water, Cocoa, Blueberries, Quinoa, etc are known to have some or the other health supporting properties, consumed for long by many localized populations in some parts of the world. But many of them have not been studied in depth for use as an ingredient in different food recipes and under different processing conditions. The so called GRAS list of additives evolved by FDA of the US for human consumption is frequently used by the industry while quoting isolated literature information to support health claims for the final compounded final product. It is ironical that chemical additives used in foods need to be safety tested before clearing for food use, but the substances covered under GRAS are freely used by the industry with no restriction whatsoever. Ultimately there is no substitute to consumer vigilance and opting for foods with balanced nutritive content and minimum processing aids.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Sodium content in foods consumed regularly continues to hog lime light with many countries waking up to the risks inherent in taking sodium-rich diets on the cardiac and kidney health in human beings. It is true that food industry has its own compulsions in resisting mandatory lowering of salt levels in food products manufactured in the organized sector. While sustained pressure on the industry may bring about desired result, how sodium levels can be reduced in home cooked foods is a challenge posing enormous logistical constraints. Campaigns for sensitizing the consumers regarding the ill-effects of salt on their health may work, albeit slowly and it may take years before any perceptible results can be achieved. Food Technologists and the processing industry will have to work in a synergistic way to evolve new techniques, ingredients and product recipes to bring down the salt levels in their products without significantly affecting the organoleptic quality adversely..

"Significant progress has been made in reformulating food products, but considerable challenges remain," said IFT President Marianne Gillette. "Food manufacturers must balance the multiple functions of sodium in food in addition to taste. Changing the sodium content in food impacts microbiological safety, flavor balance and quality, texture, mouthfeel, preservation, color and nutritional properties of a product. Today, there is no single ideal substitute for all the functional properties that sodium chloride provides in foods."There continues to be a need for additional scientific research as noted by the Institute of Medicine in its recently issued report entitled "Strategies to Reduce Sodium Intake in the United States." IFT agrees with the research needs identified by the IOM committee, in particular the need to develop innovative methods to reduce sodium in foods while maintaining palatability, physical properties and safety. In addition, there is a critical need to identify outcome-based public health metrics that are expected to result from any broad based reduction in sodium in foods.

Institute of Food Technologists in the US, the internationally recognized professional body representing thousands of food professionals has thrown its weight behind the move to achieve reduction of salt in processed foods and it is indeed laudable. Other similar professional bodies in other countries like China and India also must take pro-active policy initiatives to help industry achieve the sodium reduction goals in their respective countries as a social responsibility.



The sea food exports from India are slated to hit a road block because of more stringent quality and safety assessment procedures being put in place by the importing countries in the EU. Though Indian exporters may insist on not using antibiotics in aqua culture production system in vogue in the country, food poisoning scare amongst western countries is forcing them to increase vigilance as a preemptive step to prevent serious food related adverse episodes.

"After the catch certificate issue, resolved successfully a few months back, India's seafood exports to the European Union (EU) are facing a fresh challenge in the form of mandatory testing of all aquaculture exports for anti-biotic residues from April 1, 2010. Based on the reports of the technical committee on seafood imports to the Euro Zone, the EU Health Authority has recommended checking of at least 20% of the aquaculture products imported from India for various tests such as antibiotic residue and micro-organisms.This could lead to huge delays in the Indian shipment reaching the end consumers and a fall in exports to the EU, officials at Seafood Exporters Association of India (SEAI) told FE.The EU is one of the largest importers of Indian aquaculture products and is an important market. According to the Marine Products Export Development Authority (MPEDA) sources, aquaculture exports to the EU account for almost 32% (in value) of total seafood exports.The EU has been tightening import norms based on environmental and health concerns. India was forced to implement a system to track all fishes exported to the European Union with the latter insisting on catch certificates for all fish imports from January 2010".

As buyers are supreme and suppliers have very little choice but to meet former's demands, there is no alternative to India to expanding the quality testing infrastructure to take up much larger number of samples for assessment immediately to prevent adverse consequences of a probable collapse in sea food exports. The need to set up quick testing instruments cannot be over emphasized. MPEDA has a serious challenge on its hands to meet the new demands from the EU and the sea food industry in India, with sufficient resilience, may weather the new crisis also with some minor hiccups.


Monday, May 24, 2010


China's ability to safeguard the health of its citizens from fraudsters and other quick-buck earning criminals indulging in activities that compromise food safety seems to be sorely stretched by the series of safety violations detected during the last two years. Latest incidence to add to the worries of Chinese safety enforcement authorities is the discovery of continued use of unsafe packing materials in spite of them being banned years ago. What is refreshing is the readiness of the government in exposing this before the public glare under a regime reputed for secrecy and information suppression.

"Authorities in China have seized more than seven million toxic disposable food containers, state media reported Wednesday, in the latest product safety scare to hit the nation. Seven companies in the eastern province of Jiangxi were busted for manufacturing the long-banned foam boxes using plastic waste and fluorescent whitening agents, the official China Daily newspaper said. Disposable food containers are routinely used by restaurants across China. Authorities banned foam boxes in 1999, but they can still be found in many parts of the country. The warmth of a hot meal causes toxic elements used to make the foam containers to seep into the food. Those substances can damage people's livers, kidneys and reproductive systems".

What is intriguing is the mental attitude of those who violate the government rules on food safety and indulge in such criminal activities knowing pretty well that they would be facing even threat of capital punishment, if and when they are caught. Probably psychologically every criminal has the over confidence that he will never be caught which leads to such risk taking behavior.


Subsidy in any form is a dirty word for some but it is practiced world over by each country to protect the interests of its citizens in some critical areas of economy. Billions of dollars being spent on agricultural subsidies by the US and the EU are nothing short of a scandal, hitting the very foundation of a free and fair world trade. Imagine a country like the US even subsidizing its ultra rich farming families not to grow food crops in government lands leased out to them, the intent being to prevent instability in the market due to excess production! GOI provides massive subsidies, direct as well as indirect, to millions of farmers in India for buying fertilizers, through free and/or low cost power and water, interest waivers on loans and periodic loan waivers. A nation of huge population like India cannot afford to ignore the interests of the growers because the farming community, forming more than 70% of the population determines whether there is famine or glut of agricultural crops. Financial experts always frown on subsidies and alternatives are suggested from to time to wean away the country from such profligacy.

"Instead of providing subsidy through free electricity and cheap fertiliser, an international food policy research institute has advocated gradual withdrawal of the subsidy regime by providing short-term compensation to farmers and investing the subsidy amount directly for increasing farm yield. A senior official with Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) told FE that the agriculture growth could be achieved by gradually removing farm subsidy. "The government must cut down on subsidy in agriculture such as electricity and fertiliser and compensate farmers in short run after withdrawing the subsidy so that they do not get hurt due to change in the policy regime," Mark Rosegrant, director, environment and production technology division, IFPRI, told FE. He also suggested that the government must invest the financial resources saved because of subsidy cut into the agriculture sector so that it becomes viable".

Sitting in Washington and giving a prescription for India may look far-fetched, especially from persons not familiar with the peculiarities of Indian agricultural situation but there is some substance in the argument. A farmer used to subsidies and assured minimum support price for his product can never be expected to be an efficient producer and his operations may never be viable as an economic activity with business potential. Unless there is consolidation of agricultural holdings, most of them having less than 5 hectares currently, farming sector cannot sustain itself for long.


Sunday, May 23, 2010


Irradiation is a dreaded word for many consumers because of its association with the atomic bombs that rained on the people in the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan during the second World War making their lives miserable for many years. In spite of tremendous efforts made to educate the consumers about the safety of irradiation technology for food protection, the lingering doubts and skepticism make it difficult to adopt this as an industry standard. Many countries have given clearance to irradiation of many foods and global trade in certain foods is dependent on safety certification based on gamma radiation processing. That ubiquitous X-Rays, which are different from gamma rays, can be as effective as the latter, has been known for some time now but did not receive attention it deserves because of insufficient data on its efficacy in many products. The increasing threat of microbial contamination of fresh produce is forcing the food scientists to carry out more studies on using X-Rays for these category of foods.

"Barakat Mahmoud, assistant professor of food safety and microbiology at Mississippi State University, said the RS 2400 X-ray machine can eliminate E.coli, vibrio, salmonella, cronobacter sakazakii, shigella and Listeria monocytogenes from seafood, dairy products and leafy green vegetables such as spinach and lettuce. A method for use on tomatoes is also currently under development. "The irradiation process, which he said is one of the first to use X-rays, takes just minutes, extends shelf-life and does not alter the visual quality of the produce. Spinach, lettuce and other fresh vegetables last 30 days longer after the spoilage bacteria are eliminated".

Probably the word "irradiation" may still give the X-Ray preservation technique a bad name and a better terminology needs to be found to differentiate it from gamma radiation. Thousands of X-Ray machines are working all over the world as diagnostic tools, making it familiar to the common man and using same machine for food preservation may find ready acceptance. The logic is that if X-Rays cannot harm the human body, naturally it may not harm the food also. The added advantage is that X-Ray machines are affordable to even the small scale processors while gamma irradiators are too expensive besides being tightly controlled by the governments. The atomic energy establishment in India can look at this option for helping the food industry in the country by standardizing techniques for preservation of different foods, fresh as well as the packed ones for domestic and export markets. The fact that X-Ray machines are now being indigenously made in India at costs much less than that for imported ones makes the option more attractive to the domestic food industry.



Defending food technology is not easy because of its purported influence on the declining health status of populations in many rich countries. Food technology is blamed because it has enabled processing the industry to churn out nutritionally imbalanced foods at low cost tempting the consumers to patronize them regularly. It is not realized that most technologies can be like a double edged sword having potential for good as well as bad things in life. Just because a knife, which is a part of any kitchen system, can cause injury if wrongly used, technology also can be misused by those with ulterior motives. This is true with food technology also and fraudsters, adulterators and profiteers can use the same technological means to make unsafe, cheap, misleading, camouflaged products to deceive the consumers. This does not mean that the discipline of food technology should be held responsible for the ills of the society. Here is an amplification of the above truth brought out in a recent exposition on the subject, putting the issue in a correct perspective.

"The natural foods industry has grown largely because of the erroneous notion that naturally occurring substances makes them safer as drugs or medicines than their processed counterparts. A quantitative analytical scrutiny of that which nature has provided reveals the presence of numerous natural toxins: Ricin, an extremely toxic lectin found in legumes and fatal to humans, was used as an insecticide at one time. Fortunately, heat destroys the toxicity of lectins. Chick peas and vetch contain lathyrogens which can potentially cause a crippling paralysis of the lower limbs and may result in death. Protease inhibitors are widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom, particularly in the Leguminosae and, to a lesser extent, in cereal grains and tubers. Potatoes contain numerous natural poisons, including solanine, a narcotic-like substance. Solanine is known to cause neurologic and/or gastrointestinal problems. Solanine can build up to toxic levels when potatoes are exposed to sunlight during storage. Cassava, lima beans, and the seeds of some fruits–apricots and peaches for example, are members of a group called cyanogens, precursors to the deadly poison cyanide. As a point of interest, laetrile is a cyanogen that was mistakenly represented as a cancer cure. While laetrile was effective in killing the cancer cells, it did so only at a concentration lethal to patient. Broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, mustard greens, radishes, and turnips all contain small amounts of goitrogens (glucosinolates), that can enlarge the thryroid gland and aggravate thyroid problems. Goitrogens are estimated to contribute approximately 4% to the worldwide incidence of goiters in humans. The most potent natural toxins responsible for human health risks are the mycotoxins. These are toxic metabolites produced by fungi infesting foodstuffs, especially cereals and nuts. Mycotoxins are known to have caused ergotism "St. Anthony's Fire," To avoid poisoning, eat all foods in moderation, choose a variety of foods, and avoid fad diets that advocate single food consumption concept".

That processed foods can take care of these naturally occurring toxins and undesirable constituents to make safer and more nutritious foods, is an established fact and must be conceded. Nature "lovers", preaching consumption of every thing that is natural, also must realize this truth. Criticism of any thing and every thing is more a disease with many and unless they are validated by science and the ground reality, they are just "lime light" seeking attempts best to be ignored. Atomic research can never be condemned because it was used for making destructive bombs while ignoring the benefits derived by mankind in food preservation saving precious foods which otherwise would have been spoiled and in medical field saving millions of precious lives. Before condemning any technology a realistic risk-benefit analysis must be done and one may be justified in taking a critical stand if risks far outweigh benefits.



It is rarely that bakery products are tainted by microbiological contamination. While biscuits, cookies and other low moisture products with low water activity may be immune to proliferation of bacteria and other microorganisms, bread and allied products with about 35-40% moisture can be right candidates for microbial growth under favorable conditions. It is true that use of anti fungal agents like propionates, sorbates and other preservatives confer some protection for limited periods and generally manufacturers do not give safety guarantee beyond a week for such products. Sandwich bread produced for use as a base of many products will have to be scrupulously clean and free from pathogens as they never undergo toasting as in the case of normal bread products. The reported occurrence of pathogens in some of the equipment in bread plants does raise an alarm which needs to be addressed to.

"Bread feeding machines, slicers, conveyor belts and water hoses are the areas most at risk for contamination by L. monocytogenes and continuous monitoring of plant equipment and environment can provide an early warning system for processors, finds a new study on a sandwich plant.The researchers, in a study published in Food Control said that they investigated the occurrence and genetic diversity of L. monocytogenes in a Swiss sandwich-producing plant over a 12-month period, with the goal of evaluating the potential persistence of L. monocytogenes there in order to identify possible contamination sources. L. monocytogenes as a food-borne pathogen has significant public health and economic impacts with manufacturers of ready-to-eat foods required, under EU regulation, to examine the processing environment for microbe as part of their hazard analysis critical control point (HACCP) approach and sampling schemes".

Production of sandwich bread in India is confined to the organized sector and commercial production of ready to eat sandwich products with longer shelf life is practically non-existent. But the possibility of presence of pathogens like L.monocytogenes in some parts of the plant should make the bakers more alert in maintaining the plant hygiene scrupulously.


Thursday, May 20, 2010


Solar energy development is crucial to any strategy for finding sustainable energy sources that can replace the present fossil fuel dependent regime. In spite of valiant and sustained efforts seen during the last few decades, solar energy at affordable cost is still a mirage though optimists feel it can be achieved in a few years' time. With economic incentives and other policy orchestrations, lighting through solar energy has become industry standard to day. Unless the cost of solar panels comes down very significantly, widespread use of this inexhaustible energy source is unlikely and there are intense efforts to achieve quantum reduction in cost for solar panels and photovoltaic cells in many countries. The concept of combining green house design and photovoltaic system, if successful can have far reaching positive impact on agriculture and energy dynamics in many countries blessed with abundant sun light.

"The greenhouse project will test how well crops grow in a greenhouse outfitted with Solyndra's photovoltaic systems, which are cylindrical in contrast to the flat panels or films used in many other systems. The cylindrical design enables more light to pass through into the greenhouse, with the expectation that crops would grow more efficiently than they otherwise could. It's another interesting twist in the ever-expanding field of building integrated solar, which is rapidly turning buildings into mini power generating stations. It also dovetails with the development of solar-powered sensor systems than enable greenhouses to function more efficiently".

Though initial investment required to establish such integrated system may be cost prohibitive to begin with, universal acceptance and implementation can bring down the cost very significantly. While private initiatives are welcome, solar energy is a global asset that may require regulatory control by governments. Private players must not be allowed to "bottle up" such innovations through the patent route though they deserve reasonable returns on their investments in research and development. This is where the social responsibility of financial agencies like World Bank and others comes into reckoning. Model agreements to buy out these innovations through one time payment from the developers that will satisfy their reasonable financial expectations and offering these technologies to countries with high potential for solar energy harnessing must be explored.


The euphoria about the advantages of GM crops over traditional ones seems to be misplaced considering the latest problem encountered by cultivators of GM soybean and other crops in the US. Though GM crops are resistant to many insects and pests with high destruction potential, their susceptibility to a number of weeds that can reduce the yield led the widespread use of glyphosate to tackle the weed menace. Recent reports that many of such dreaded weeds are making a come back, after developing resistance to glyphosate is alarming with far reaching implications. In a country like the US where large tracts of land are under cultivation of GM crops the consequences can be mind boggling.

"The first resistant species to pose a serious threat to agriculture was spotted in a Delaware soybean field in 2000. Since then, the problem has spread, with 10 resistant species in at least 22 states infesting millions of acres, predominantly soybeans, cotton and corn. The superweeds could temper American agriculture's enthusiasm for some genetically modified crops. Soybeans, corn and cotton that are engineered to survive spraying with Roundup have become standard in American fields. However, if Roundup doesn't kill the weeds, farmers have little incentive to spend the extra money for the special seeds. Roundup — originally made by Monsanto but now also sold by others under the generic name glyphosate — has been little short of a miracle chemical for farmers. It kills a broad spectrum of weeds, is easy and safe to work with, and breaks down quickly, reducing its environmental impact. Sales took off in the late 1990s, after Monsanto created its brand of Roundup Ready crops that were genetically modified to tolerate the chemical, allowing farmers to spray their fields to kill the weeds while leaving the crop unharmed. Today, Roundup Ready crops account for about 90 percent of the soybeans and 70 percent of the corn and cotton grown in the United States".

Monsanto company which created these crop variants had hoped that the genetic modification they brought about could impart permanent trait to resist any ill- effect of glyphosate on the crop, may have to rework on its strategy immediately to prevent large scale shunning of their seeds by the farmers. Those who propound and espouse the cause of GM food crops must wake up to the reality that Nature has its own way of correcting man-made distortions like this and an introspection is the need of the hour.



Food delivery service is an off shoot of the special needs of modern society when cooking time in kitchen is drastically shrinking due to demand for time for other daily activities. Restaurants and eateries have come to be established as an essential part of to day's living style precisely for this reason. But increasing transportation bottlenecks and long distances between offices, factories and home settlements are creating the need for a service that can ensure delivery of prepared foods in a "ready to eat" format, at the door steps of consumers. Specialized restaurants are already offering such services in many metropolitan areas in many countries building up substantial clientele, expanding their business in the process. But a new trend seems to be emerging in this service sector with some trailblazers opening up new avenue for food business. Though they are few in number, theses service providers offer nutritionally balanced and special meals that help customers to "manage" their body weight or meet customized nutritional needs.

"In a telephone interview, Dr. Sears said he wasn't familiar with Zone Manhattan, but when he looked at the company's Web site, he said, "If they're making good Zone meals, and I applaud them if they are, then they're solving the compliance problem." (Dr. Sears's own Web site sells Zone products, but not the kind of prepared meals that I was looking for, and he admitted that cooking meals at home in the 40:30:30 ratio can be daunting.) The Zone ratio, he said, maintains a hormone balance and keeps you from feeling hungry. Zone Manhattan was my hands-down favorite. I called its owner, Steven Lindner, whose company is near the Fulton Fish Market in the Hunts Point section of the Bronx. He said he is at the market most days by 6 a.m. By 7 a.m., he said, the company's kitchen is preparing food that will go out on delivery trucks that night. He also said that, like restaurants delivering take-out food, he doesn't have to list ingredients on the packages, something that could change if he expands to other states. Both Nu-Kitchen and eDiets, which operate nationally, listed every ingredient. Chefs Diet did not".

The above trend, though just emerging in some areas in the US, is likely to be followed in many megalopolis areas in other countries too in the near future. Whether they will remain popular is an issue that will be decided in the coming years. How much influence the local food regulations will have on the development is also unpredictable. That such a service, backed up by experienced dietitians, health experts and nutritionists, has a relevance in the coming years is indisputable.


Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Report making seems to be a big business for consultants touting high market and management credentials. To imagine that the whole food industry in India as well as the GOI depended heavily on the "famous" McKinsey Report prepared in nineteen nineties may seem ridiculous but it is a fact as GOI never had any reliable data base on the country's food sector. At best the figures were guesstimates churned out in the corridors of various ministries and the Planning Commission by the firmly entrenched, chair bound bureaucrats. How far the reports from the private consultants could be more reliable is a matter of conjecture. In absence of any other alternatives, most projections in the country are based on these "fancy" reports either financed by the government or published as part of a business investment.

"As per our new research report "Indian Food and Drinks Market: Emerging Opportunities", despite the economic turmoil, the Indian food and beverage market is expanding rapidly. As per our estimations, the market is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 9% during 2009-2013. Moreover, the market is witnessing entry of large number of super markets, hyper markets, shopping malls and fast food chains. Though most of the products of Indian food and beverage market are observing positive growth, alcoholic drinks have emerged as the largest and fastest growing product category. As per our findings, the Indian alcoholic market is expected to grow at a CAGR of around 12% during 2010-2013. Apart from this, there has also been a substantial growth in the consumption of fruits and juices".

To project a growth of 9% for the food sector or 12% for alcoholic beverages does not need much expertise as these figures are relatively on the safer side and any major deviations can always be explained away by invoking monsoon or drought! Imprecise language using words like "our estimations", "projected to grow", "large number of supermarkets", "most of the products" , "positive growth", "largest and fastest growing", "expected to grow", "around 12%", "substantial growth" does not instill any confidence on the quality and reliability of such reports. As long as there is no "quality check" on the survey methodology and extent of field coverage, it is difficult to either believe or distrust the figures generated by private agencies.
The new breed of consultants, many of them NRIs with practically no experience with food processing, having right "connections" at right "quarters", engage retired food technologists or young management graduates in India paying them a fraction of the fancy fees they charge their clients to produce fancy looking documents. The "Reports" they produce look impressive though contents-wise they may not be worth the paper written on them.


Human beings, being endowed with "intelligence", have the luxury of thinking differently from one another and this probably makes the life on this planet exciting. Opinions, suggestions, criticisms, comments, critiques, debates, discussions etc can bring out divergent views on a single subject and what is truth is supposed to prevail at the end. But being argumentative without a rationale or logic can be self defeating and one cannot avoid such divergent views amongst a world population of almost 7 billion. Here is a typical example of a criticism not based on any science about a food ingredient, made from a herb, consumed for centuries with no known ill effect being questioned about its credentials which cannot stand scientific scrutiny.

"That said, Truvia is not stevia. Stevia looks like what it is — a plant, an herb. It's green, and can be purchased in a dried, powdered form. Some companies make extracts of stevia in a liquid form — something you could do, too, with a little bourbon or vodka on your side. Either way, this is something you can grow and make in your own kitchen. But what about Truvia? Truvia looks like table sugar. It's crystallized sweetness. Can you make Truvia in your kitchen? Of course not! Despite attempts to get straight answers from the folks at Cargill and Coca-Cola who manufacture Truvia, all we know about it is that it's made first by steeping the stevia leaves in boiling water. But how it goes from being "stevia tea" and gets converted into a crystallized ingredient called rebiana is a mystery of the food industry. Surely there's some kind of processing involved, no?

If the convoluted argument put forward by the above critic is taken to its logical conclusion, most of the foods consumed to day, may not pass the test for safety! Is it possible for mankind to go back to stone age and follow the life style of humans living at that time of history? The word "processing" is not a dirty word as implied by the above critic but a necessity in the modern age to conserve food and prevent starvation all around. Just because the active principle in Stevia leaves is extracted, decolorized, concentrated and made into a dry product does not disqualify it from being used as a sweetener. Sugar would not have been available to day if this logic is accepted and probably one would be left with no choice but use the sugarcane juice for sweetening coffee, tea and other beverages. Imagine every family growing sugarcane in its backyard for daily use!



The increasingly hostile attitude of consumers towards food processing industry is due to the perceived notion that products being manufactured and marketed by them are causing immense harm to the health of the population. In many rich countries processed food products form a major part of daily diet with very little time and efforts spent on cooking at home. Against such a background the reported comments by one of the major food players recently, that consumers have to blame themselves for all the ills that confront them since they do not do adequate exercise, can only further damage the image of the industry as a whole. No wonder that the above insensitive remark attracted stinging criticism all around.

Asked about Pepsi's role in the obesity problem, Nooyi declared: "If all consumers exercised, did what they had to do, the problem of obesity wouldn't exist." There you have it. Obesity, which costs the nation $150 billion a year in direct medical costs, solved. Now we can move on to cancer. The problem with Nooyi's statement — besides its absurdity, that is — is that science doesn't back up the idea that obesity is caused exclusively by a refusal to get off the couch. In fact, recent studies have shown that food is a much more important component of weight gain than exercise. For instance, despite the proliferation of health clubs across the land and the nearly universal understanding that working out is good for you, exercise levels have remained remarkably flat over the past 20 years. What's changed is food. There's way more of it available everywhere and we eat a lot more than we used to, 23% more calories a day in 2008 than in 1970. And while exercise can certainly help with weight loss, to really lose significant weight without changing your diet might just require you to register for the Ironman Triathalon. Down one Starbucks (SBUX) venti caramel frappucino after a five mile run and the calorie-burning benefits are gone. Even if you just want to counter the effects of the 50 gallons of sweetened beverage the average American consumers in a year — many of them sold by Pepsi — you'd have to run 800 miles a year, or approximately 2 miles every day. How many people are going to do that?

It must be conceded that there is lot of truth in the statement by the industry spokesperson as the most crucial reason for to day's obesity and related health disorders is the sedentary life style of most of the population with high income and exercise is definitely a palliative for preempting such undesirable consequences. But such realization has to come from within rather than as a part of the blame game for identifying the real culprit. Industry must share the blame to the limited extent because of its overwhelming portfolio of "junk" foods, providing limited alternative options to the consumers in the form of balanced and healthy products.


Tuesday, May 18, 2010


There are many divergent views about the relation between food and nutrition, some even against the present established norms of nutrition science. There are claims that fat is not responsible for obesity, salt is not injurious to health, sugar is not harmful, HFCS cannot be blamed for some of the disorders, etc. Of course absence of unanimity always presents problem when food standards and policies are to be drawn at national and international levels. But what is galling is the continued vacillation in taking bold policy decisions that will have a chance to reverse the present trend of uncontrolled production and consumption of unbalanced products being churned out by many manufacturers in the food processing sector.

"But the professor said New Zealand was going against the world trend, even among conservative governments. Its policy amounted to a subsidy for bad foods and taught children that eating them was normal. He said obesity and the diseases it causes - such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers - would overwhelm health services without major changes. Simply telling people about healthy eating and activity was of limited value as educational methods worked only on the well educated".

"PROFESSOR'S CURE * Ban junk food from state-owned premises.* Reduce GST on fruit and vegetables and increase it on foods high in sugar, salt and saturated fat.* Introduce coloured "traffic light" labels to grade packaged foods for consumers from healthy to unhealthy.* Ban food marketing to children.* Establish food and activity requirements for school".

Though many of the cures proposed are already known, there is no unanimity amongst scientists as well as the policy makers regarding desirability of controlling the industry too much, especially under a democratic system. It is better that a universal consensus is evolved amongst the members of WTO that can be the basis for evolving a sound policy of influencing the "health content" of products from the industry which will help not only the consumers in each country but also facilitate hassle free global trade in "good" foods.



Land grabbing in other countries by the well to do nations under the garb of food security has attracted critical attention from many quarters and irrespective of any tag attached to such transactions, it is nothing but naked colonization using money power. Though the colonized countries derive some benefits in terms of cash inflow, this does not compensate for the reduced availability of food to the local population. It is in this context that the UN bodies want decent safety clauses in such land acquisition agreements between rich and poor countries.

"International agribusinesses, investment banks, hedge funds, commodity traders, sovereign wealth funds, UK pension funds, foundations and 'individuals have been snapping up some of the world's cheapest land, in Sudan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Malawi, Ethiopia, Congo, Zambia, Uganda, Madagascar, Zimbabwe, Mali, Sierra Leone, Ghana and elsewhere. Ethiopia alone has approved 815 foreign-financed agricultural projects since 2007. Any land investors can't buy is leased for about $1 per year per hectare. In many cases, the contracts have led to evictions, civil unrest and complaints of "land grabbing", John Vidal reports in UK's Guardian [1]. Nyikaw Ochalla, an indigenous Anuak from the Gambella region of Ethiopia now living in Britain but in regular contact with farmers in his region, told Vidal [1]: "All of the land in the Gambella region is utilised. Each community has and looks after its own territory and the rivers and farmlands within it. It is a myth propagated by the government and investors to say that there is waste land or land that is not utilised in Gambella. "The foreign companies are arriving in large numbers, depriving people of land they have used for centuries. There is no consultation with the indigenous population. The deals are done secretly. The only thing the local people see is people coming with lots of tractors to invade their lands….People cannot believe what is happening. Thousands of people will be affected and people will go hungry." Indian companies, backed by government loans, have bought or leased hundreds of thousands of hectares in Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Senegal and Mozambique, where they are growing rice, sugar cane, maize and lentils to feed their domestic market".

To see Indian companies also getting into this act is rather baffling. There are millions of hectares of government and privately held land in the country lying fallow which can be taken up for development by the private investors within the country if right policies are evolved. That heavy investments can bring these currently unproductive land under cultivation of food crops which will make India truly self reliant in the food front. Treating land as a "holy cow" needs reconsideration and land must be considered as an agricultural asset to be harnessed for the well being of its population.



Politics of expediency can play havoc in a country like India where people are known to be more politically conscious than their counterparts in many other countries. Growers, be in Punjab or in Andhra Pradesh are supposed to have same rights and expectations and no responsible government can show discrimination dealing with the farmers from different regions. How ever the procurement policy last year was modified to favor the Punjab farmers through dilution of food grain standards, Why there were no protests from other states is not clear but the preeminence of Punjab in contributing to FCI stock might have tempted GOI to appease the farmers there.

"The government agreed to buy rice that contains 28 percent damaged grains from some districts in Punjab, more than the 25 percent broken-rice limit that's a national benchmark, said the official, who didn't want to be identified as the information is not public yet. Growers in Andhra Pradesh will get less than the floor price for grain that's more than 25 percent damaged, he said. The two states together supplied 52 percent of the record 33.68 million tons purchased in the year ended Sept. 30, 2009. The government has bought 26.57 million tons of the grain from farmers since purchases began in October, less than 27.35 million tons procured in the year-ago period, according to the Food Corp. of India. A bigger stockpile may help Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's government avert imports and meet an election promise of ensuring food security for the poor. Singh's Congress party promised to give each poor family 25 kilograms of rice or wheat at 3 rupees a kilogram every month".

Lower quality of rice grains which are consumed predominantly in the South, because of the above quality dilution would be felt during the current year and with the Public Distribution System in disarray, GOI is bound face the heat from the beneficiaries once distribution starts from the storage goddowns of FCI. Imagine the fate of the poor beneficiaries, who had to be content with a rice supply out of which 25% is already bad under normal conditions, being forced to accept still more inferior grain because of the new quality maneuvering by GOI. Added to this is the sharp decline in quality during unsound storage and distribution by FCI, some times after 2-3 years of procurement.

Sunday, May 16, 2010


Urban gardening is often suggested as a possible solution to some of the ills that afflict this planet. In many places in the US, vegetable gardens were raised in vacant areas near the human settlements and the produce harvested were claimed to be superior to commercially grown ones in terms of quality and safety. In big metropolitan areas like New York, terrace gardens were touted as a possible alternative to procuring fresh produce from distant places with high food mileage incurred by the latter. How far these local movements would solve the food problem or environmental degradation is a matter of conjecture. But even if it contributes to some extent in solving the food and environmental problems, such initiatives deserve to be encouraged and supported. Whether such efforts will be fruitful in a water starved country like India is another issue requiring in-depth consideration. Translating a hobby into a practical and world-wide movement is fraught with enormous logical and human constraints.

"But a five-minute walk away is the organic corporate vegetable garden, where spreadsheets and performance reviews give way to basil starts and black peppermint plants. Employees can sneak out for a quick lunchtime weeding session and cart home the harvest. As companies have less to spend on raises, health benefits and passes to the water park, a fashionable new perk is emerging: all the carrots and zucchini employees can grow. Carved from rolling green office park turf or tucked into containers on rooftops and converted smoking areas, these corporate plots of dirt spring from growing attention to sustainability and a rising interest in gardening. But they also reflect an economy that calls for creative ways to build workers' morale and health."It's almost as if they are saying, 'Yeah, we couldn't give you a pay increase and yeah, times are tough, but this is something we can do to help improve the quality of your life,' " said Bruce Butterfield, the research director for the nonprofit National Gardening Association. In corporate language, there is very little benchmarking on the numbers of gardens. But dozens of companies in several parts of the country have recently installed them or are digging them this spring. That Google, Yahoo and Sunset magazine have started organic gardens is not a surprise. They are, after all, based in Silicon Valley, where the work force is almost as comfortable composting as it is programming".

The reported waning of interest amongst people in terrace top gardens is to be expected, especially in a society where time is a limiting constraint. But one cannot take the credit away from this noble and novel concept and corporate organizations must continue to support such initiatives, at least for the sake of refreshing the minds of their employees during their hard and strenuous office work. Probably keeping the employees occupied mentally and physically may reduce the health care expenses at least, though it may not solve the food problem.



That language can be a powerful tool in striking bon homie amongst human beings, is well known and there is nothing like the language which can create instant kinship. Probably this may be the reason that many countries in the Universe guard fiercely their language and promote the same with a sense bordering on fanaticism. Whether it is German, French, Japanese or Spanish those who speak these languages do not care for English which is considered the most spoken language in the world. Japanese, Koreans and Chinese are also proud of their language and are known to accord lower priority in practicing English. Probably economic stature of a country can give considerable clout in promoting the language of that country as exemplified by the Chinese attempts to spread their language across the world. Latest example is Indonesia where the Mandarin language is being made popular by the Chinese.

"The policy goes against decades of anti-Chinese hostility in Indonesia, which has the world's largest Muslim population. But things are changing, and the Chinese government is now sending hundreds of teachers to Indonesia, including one who has taught in Lamongan. As China's economic power grows, the study of Mandarin is surging around the world. Its rise in Indonesia may be one of the most telling examples of how China's influence is overflowing even the steepest of barriers".

Indonesia is a resource rich country and the Chinese know that it will be rewarding to establish their influence there. Language serves admirably well because there is a significant Mandarin speaking population living there for long, though they speak the local language also fluently. Chinese strategy is all the more striking considering the bad image they had in Indonesia till recently. The inability of Indian immigrants in Malaysia and Sri Lanka speaking Tamil to make any impact in their chosen countries may be a reflection on the psyche of Indians who do not mingle with the locals creating unnecessary barriers for kinship. It is ironical that the Chinese with their highly clannish attitude are able to spread their wings while Indians with considerable skills and command over English language are viewed with suspicion in many countries where they have emigrated long back.


Friday, May 14, 2010


Food allergens pose serious life threatening risks amongst a significant segment of the population in many countries and early detection can save precious lives. While such allergies are on the rise in western countries, no reliable data exist in most of the developing countries including India. Statistics on population affected by food allergy are neither accurate nor reliable since such data compilation is far and few in many countries. Probably traditional eating habits and lesser consumption of processed foods in the developing countries might be giving the impression that food allergies are far and few in these countries. No one knows for real the ground reality regarding the extent of such incidences prevailing in many developing countries. There is even a view orchestrated recently that the projected figures for food allergic population is exaggerated and the very methodologies now in use to detect allergies are not fool proof, calling for more studies in this area.

"The articles looked at allergies to cow's milk, hen's eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish and shellfish, which account for more than 50 percent of all food allergies. The review authors found that food allergies affect between 1 percent and 10 percent of the U.S. population, but it's not clear whether the prevalence of food allergies is increasing. While food challenges, skin-prick testing and blood-serum testing for IgE antibodies to specific foods (immunoglobulin E allergy testing) all have a role to play in diagnosing food allergies, no one test has sufficient ease of use or sensitivity or specificity to be recommended over other tests, Dr. Jennifer J. Schneider Chafen, of the VA Palo Alto Healthcare System and Stanford University School of Medicine, and colleagues, said in a news release. Elimination diets are a mainstay of food allergy therapy, but the researchers identified only one randomized controlled trial (RCT) — the gold-standard of evidence — of an elimination diet".

One of the reasons for lack of reliable information on food allergies could be the overwhelming incidence of infectious and other diseases that occur amongst the population in developing countries, especially those who inhabit the tropical and sub-tropical regions of the world. Probably this has deflected any attention on food allergy cases, considered far and few in these countries. It is for consideration whether under the "unique identification number" project of GOI, information on food allergies can also be included amongst the personal details of each citizen.