Wednesday, June 30, 2010


The shooing out of PepsiCo from Kerala in 2002 is still fresh in the memory of many people who value the sanctity of agreements and commitments in establishing working relations between the state and the industry. Though the bottling giant, invited to establish its bottling plant in an investment starved state like Kerala which "enjoys" the unenviable reputation as an industry unfriendly state in the country, significant incentives and assurance of labor peace persuaded the MNC to enter the state. The political twist in the state forced the plant to be shuttered soon on some pretext and history is being repeated now with the state going after another MNC, Coca Cola which has its bottling plant not far way from the Pepsi plant that was closed for ever. Recent pronouncements by Venezuela on the working of MNCs working there to review their functioning is a pointer to the eventual forceful closure of these companies.

"Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez singled out Coca-Cola and Pepsi among transnational companies that would have their water use reviewed by the government as part of a widening state control on the economy. Chavez accused transnational companies of privatizing water, in the latest swipe at businesses that use large quantities of water in their production processes. Last year he penalized many Venezuelan companies that he said were wasting water. Chavez said all water belonged to the people, calling it a "social property."

No doubt water is a precious natural resource which needs to be protected from wastage and over exploitation for which each nation should have a route map for conservation. If there are inequities in utilization of water same should be addressed with serious efforts to find a lasting solution. If all manufacturing facilities which require certain minimum amounts of water for efficient functioning are to be closed down what will happen to their investments and what will be the fate of thousands of employees earning a livelihood by working in these facilities? The political class which seeks to promote their ideologies should not lose track of the national interest and stymie the industrial development under any pretext is a short sighted and reprehensible.


Entrepreneurial spirit, wherever it is manifested must be applauded. There are many lucky inheritors of industrial empires and building on what is inherited is also some thing deserving admiration. In the catering sector there are many corporate ventures which are shining examples of excellent managerial competence and far sighted vision. Chipotle, the restaurant chain that specializes in Mexican foods, is one of the marvels of modern era as it has been able to carve out for itself a significant clientele base in the US and spread its wings beyond the borders. It recently celebrated the opening of its 1000th restaurant which is not a small achievement measured by any yardstick. The saga of this 17 year wonder can be an excellent model for any new entrepreneurs wishing to be counted amongst the big business players.

"Ells, a classically trained chef who studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, before beginning his culinary career at a fine dining restaurant in San Francisco, originally planned to pursue his dream of being a chef and owning his own restaurant. But the success of the first Chipotle gave rise to a new plan and has given Ells a bigger platform to influence how people eat. "I wanted to have a 'real' restaurant, but I didn't know enough about the business or the economics of running a restaurant," explains Ells. "My plan was to use Chipotle as a cash cow to help me finance my own restaurant. It was a novel idea: I'd show that food that was fast didn't have to be a typical fast-food experience. I used great quality ingredients and cooked everything in the restaurant using classical cooking techniques. People loved it so I opened another, and another, and so on. "Since opening the first restaurant in 1993 and shifting his plan to build more Chipotle locations, Ells and Chipotle have achieved a number of restaurant industry firsts. Chipotle was the first national restaurant company to commit to serving naturally raised meat (from animals that are raised in a humane way, never given antibiotics or added hormone and fed a pure vegetarian diet), the first to commit to local and organically grown produce, and the first to serve dairy (cheese and sour cream) made with milk from cows that are not treated with the synthetic hormone rBGH (recombinant bovine growth hormone). Ells calls the vision behind this commitment "Food with Integrity" and it has the company looking for more sustainable sources for all of the ingredients it uses. "Our focus on making great tasting food with more sustainably raised ingredients available and affordable for everyone is one of the keys to our success," says Ells. "These better quality ingredients allow us to make better tasting food, and that's what keeps our customers coming back. While some of our customers don't know the depths of our commitment to finding such great ingredients, the discipline to focus on making food this way has contributed significantly to our reaching the 1,000 restaurant milestone."


Taco Bell chain of fast food restaurants, also specialized in Mexican foods had its beginning almost 50 years ago and has about 5800 outlets to day with a customer base of almost 2 billion but is owned by well established corporate giants. The success of Chipotle, with more than $ 120 million annual business and 22000 employees, is all the more creditable considering the domination of the market by Taco Bell. Chipotle is a typical example of development driven by consumer demand as its founder with a vision to establish a high end restaurant was pushed farther and farther to set up more and more fast food joints which were liked by the customers. What factors contributed to the roaring success of Chipotle need to be studied for the benefit of future entrepreneurs venturing into new business. Though the claims such as use of local produce, organic raw materials, milk from farm raised cows, meat from open reared animals etc might have helped them to attract customers, they do not provide a complete answer. Probably the quality of food served, the style of serving, diversity of foods offered, decor of the joints, customer service, cost factor etc might have more to do with the success of this unique fast food chain than other factors.


Monday, June 28, 2010


GM foods have divided the world vertically into two camps, one swearing against them and the other willing to believe the claims of safety made by the developers of this category of foods. A country like the US seems to be wedded to GM foods as a major portion of soy and corn produced in this country are derived from GM category and with thousands of food products containing one or the other of these two ingredients it is almost impossible for an average American consumer to avoid ingestion of GM foods through the daily diet. Recent legal battle on the cultivation of GM beet ended in favor of the GM lobby when the Californian courts allowed sowing of the Round up beet during the season. But the latest ruling by the Supreme Court of USA banning the planting and sale of GM Alfalfa for feeding cattle in the country is likely to create further turmoil amongst farmers, seed producers and processors.

"It should be no surprise that Monsanto's PR machine is working hard to spin the truth in this morning's decision in the first-ever Supreme Court case on genetically engineered crops (Monsanto v. Geertson Seed Farms). Despite what the biotech seed giant is claiming, today's ruling isn't close to the victory they were hoping for. The 7-1 decision issued today by the Supreme Court was on the appeal of the Center for Food Safety's (CFS) successful suit, which resulted in a ban on GMO alfalfa. And, while the High Court ruled in favor of Monsanto by reversing an injunction that was part of the lower court's decision, more importantly, it also ruled that the ban on GMO alfalfa remains intact, and that the planting and sale of GMO alfalfa remains illegal".

Monsanto, the leading GM seed producer is not going to take this latest twist in its GM agricultural saga and can be expected to mount fierce offensive against the antagonists of GM crops to protect its turf. What is amazing is the almost neutral stand taken by the government in this controversy which is construed as succumbing to the muscle power of companies like Monsanto purely on economic considerations. The implications of the legal ruling cannot be easily discerned, though it is logical to think that if Gm Alfalfa crop is not safe for animals, can it be safe for human beings? Unfortunately there is a lot of gap between logic and reality and economic factors will far out weigh any human considerations!



Targeted advertising aimed at attracting innocent kids to unhealthy but high profit foods by the industry is a matter of concern in many countries striving desperately to fight the epidemic of childhood obesity. Such practices have reached uncontrollable proportion when some of the established industry players started offering attractive toys as temptation to kids and parents, finding it extremely difficult to control their kids, from rushing to such promoted products. Inclusion of cheap toys in food packs or offering toys under promotional schemes is a strategy many food processors follow but "bribing" the kids through toys to come to restaurants is a ploy of recent origin. The lame excuse that these toys are offered to increase the pleasure of eating out for the entire family cannot be justification for such questionable practices.

"Tempting kids with toys is unfair and deceptive, both to kids who don't understand the concept of advertising, and to their parents, who have to put up with their nagging children," said Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The group, which previously took on fast-food chain KFC over artery-clogging trans fats, alleged that the practice is illegal under consumer protection laws in states including California, Texas, New Jersey and Massachusetts. "It's a creepy and predatory practice that warrants an injunction," Stephen Gardner, CSPI's litigation director, said in a statement. McDonald's called the group's charges a "misrepresentation" of its effort to sell healthier food and safe toys. "Getting a toy is just one part of a fun, family experience at McDonald's," spokesman William Whitman said in a statement. In 2006, the latest year for which data is available, fast-food companies, led by McDonald's, spent more than $520 million on advertising and toys to promote children's meals, according to a U.S. Federal Trade Commission report. The latest Happy Meal promotion from McDonald's is a tie-in with the popular DreamWorks Animation film "Shrek Forever After." The meals include toy watches fashioned after the movie's characters Shrek, Donkey, Gingy and Puss in Boots".

Of course if such promotional techniques are used for popularizing healthy meals for the kids, there should not be any objection to these promotional programs of the restaurant industry. But if the recent reports about the low quality of kids meals and unhealthy effect on their consumption are to be believed, catering industry has lot to answer for their irresponsible attitude vis-a-vis kids. Responsible industry players like McDonalds must give a lead to the rest in restoring the credibility of the industry and promote human welfare through concrete and positive action..


Sunday, June 27, 2010


With HACCP system becoming industry standard world over for ensuring safety of foods manufactured by the organized industry, risk assessment assumes importance and it is imperative for any responsible processor to know the seriousness or the implications of various risks and their magnitude before a remedial program is chalked out. Of all the risks associated with food manufacturing operations, microbial contamination poses the greatest one and unless a full understanding of the impact of presence of pathogens at different stages of manufacture emerges, no worth while programs of containment can be designed. It is true that reliable assessment facilities are required to identify and quantify the extent of microbial contaminants which calls for high investments affordable only to organized large scale processors. A recent report high lighting the difficulties in implementing HACCP amongst small manufacturing facilities dealing with meat products, predicts closure of at least 50% of them if such rigorous control regimes are made compulsory.

'One way to think about the contribution of risk analysis can make to food safety policy could be as a hierarchical, nested sequence of analyses that help decision-makers hone in on where their efforts would reduce risk most. At the most aggregate level, there are basic risk ranking exercises and efforts to monitor the emergence of new hazards. "At the most detailed level, microbial risk assessment examining the way a particular pathogen hazard emerges in the process of supplying a particular food helps risk managers to pinpoint appropriate control points. "If risk ranking of health endpoints provides a broad picture of the distributional impact of food safety risks in the population, risk assessment provides a more detailed picture of how these risks are generated. Using microbial risk assessment for evaluating food borne pathogens is a relatively new application. Even though MRA has been conducted for decades to support policy development in water quality management and space exploration, as late as the early 1990s, there were serious doubts about the feasibility of applying it to food safety. Pioneering efforts by scientists at U.S. FDA, USDA, and FAO/WHO largely resolved these doubts."

While risk assessment as a tool to understand the dangers posed by pathogens will be useful to the whole of the industry, the mandatory steps to implement HACCP based corrective steps may need rethinking. Making aware of the dangers at each and every step of the processing operation and evolving a basic pre-emptive ameliorating package with assured results can be helpful to those who are not in a position to go for HACCP. This is not to belittle the importance of HACCP or consumer safety but a practical approach to address the concerns of small scale food processors with limited resources.


Saturday, June 26, 2010


Rice is a staple commodity for people in China, India and many other Asian countries. Out of a world production of about 600 million tons of rice (paddy), more than 50% is accounted for by the two Asian giants, China and India. Since rice is the staple food grain, very little is left over for export from these countries. India even had to resort to rice imports in the past to meet the supply-demand gap. The green revolution that saw a quantum jump in yield enabled the country to meet the increasing demand from a growing population but the productivity has since stagnated at about 3 tons of paddy per hectare. In comparison China was able to evolve hybrid varieties that could yield up to 9 tons per hectare though its average nation-wise productivity figure, as being claimed, stands at 7.2 tons per hectare. Recent reports claiming the development of a super yielding variety of rice in that country, that could raise the yield to as high as 13.5 tons per hectare, is of intense interest to other rice producing countries in Asia.

"Yuan Longping, director of the National Hybrid Rice Engineering Technology Research Center, said on a forum held in Wuxi city on Sunday that he and his team are working on a new version of high-yield hybrid rice and might complete it in 2012, reports Xinhua. He said the new phase-III super hybrid rice is expected to yield 13.5 tons of rice per hectare, compared with 9 tons from the current second-generation hybrid rice. Hybrid rice account for over 57% of the total 29 million hectares of rice China plants in the nation every year, with an average output capacity of 7.2 tons per hectare. "The average yield of hybrid rice is at least 20 percent more than that of inbred rice, feeding 70 million more people annually," Yuan said, adding rice is a major food feeding over half of the world's population".

It is not clear how this feat has been achieved by the agricultural scientists though hybridization technique could have been used efficiently. Also not certain is whether genetic modification was involved or such high yields could be sustainable during large scale trials. While yield is one of the most critical factors that will decide about the food availability, the quality characteristics will determine the acceptability of new varieties to the consumers in any free market. As China's priority is feeding the masses and preventing large scale starvation, R & D policy aiming at quantum jump in productivity, irrespective of the quality, may be justified.



Application of Biotechnology in food processing is largely based on use of many enzymes that can catalyze a variety of reactions beneficial during food processing. If bio-fuel is becoming a reality it is due to the marvelous role played by enzymes like cellulase, amylase, amyloglucosidase and yeast enzymes in converting agricultural materials to alcohol. There are many such enzyme systems mostly derived from microorganisms. Enzymes also played a vital role in creating the low cost cane sugar alternative in High Fructose Corn Syrup, used extensively by the food beverage industry world over. Enzymes also played an important role in the laundry detergent industry by evolving products that can remove tough stains from the cloth. Use of enzymes as analytical aids and in diagnostic tools for some diseases is well established. If we have a quick blood glucose monitoring system that can quantify glucose in a matter of seconds, it is due to the glucose oxidase enzyme produced commercially at economical cost for use by the industry. With the advent of modern biotechnology and bioengineering capabilities, enzymes can be maneuvered to do many tasks more efficiently at faster pace. .

"Enzyme engineering is the recent technology growing rapidly due to its higher application in a lot of fields and due to having bright and clear future vision. A most exciting development over the last few years is the application of genetic engineering techniques to enzyme technology. There are a number of properties which may be improved or altered by genetic engineering including the yield and kinetics of the enzyme, the ease of downstream processing and various safety aspects. Enzymes from dangerous or unapproved microorganisms and from slow-growing or limited plant or animal tissue may be cloned into safe high-production microorganisms. The amount of enzyme produced by a microorganism may be increased by increasing the number of gene copies that code for it For example; The engineered cells, aided by the plasmid amplification at around 50 copies per cell, produce penicillin – G – Amidase constitutively and in considerably higher quantities than does the fully induced parental strain. Such increased yields are economically relevant not just for the increased volumetric productivity but also because of reduced downstream processing costs, the resulting crude enzyme being that much purer. New enzyme structures may be designed and produced in order to improve on existing enzymes or create new activities. Much protein engineering has been directed at Subtilisin (from Bacillus amyloliquefaciens), the principal enzyme in the detergent enzyme preparation, Alcalase. This has been aimed at the improvement of its activity in detergents by stabilizing it at even higher temperatures, pH and oxidant strength. A number of possibilities now exist for the construction of artificial enzymes. These are generally synthetic polymers or oligomers with enzyme-like activities, often called synzymes. Enzymes can be immobilized i.e., an enzyme can be linked to an inert support material without loss of activity which facilitates reuse and recycling of the enzyme.Use of engineered enzyme to form biosensor for the analytical use is also recent activity among the developed countries. Some enzymes make use in diseases diagnosis so they can be genetically engineered to make the task easier. Thus it is obvious that there is huge scope of the enzyme technology in the future as well as in present".

Enzymes are bound to play increasingly important role in the day to day lives of people and their optimal use can be expected to bring down the cost of many products made to day through chemical reactions under extreme conditions. Minimum formation of undesirable artifacts with unknown consequences is another advantage when enzyme mediated reactions are adopted. Enzymes of diverse nature are expected to play a crucial role in future in weeding out thousands of chemical substances with uncertain safety, used by the food industry during processing for various purposes.


Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) is an issue that is hotting up in the EU because of its implications beyond Europe. One of the cardinal principles of global free trade is "non-discrimination" of products based on country where they are manufactured as it can be construed as an indirect attempt to influence the buying decisions of the consumer at the market place. If the product quality is same there is no reason why a consumer cannot buy a product made in another country and the rigorous testing systems put in place at the entry points in each country is supposed to allow only safe and quality compliant products in. The "patriotism" factor, "local produce" movements, carbon foot print figures, cheap labor cost, lack of hygiene and sanitation, etc are all invoked to shun foreign made goods and protect nonviable local industry. If the global village concept is accepted there is no place for such discriminative trade practices any where in the world.

"Supporters of the proposed COOL regulation say it would put a stop to the practice of meat imported from countries outside the EU being processed, say in Ireland, and then being labelled as produce of Irish origin. While this is it legal, they say, it seems neither fair nor equitable as it comes perilously close to misleading consumers. Opponents counter by arguing the imposition of COOL across the board would cause serious difficulties for manufacturers of complex products such as pizzas, pies and ready meals that buy ingredients from multiple sources according to factors such availability or seasonal variation. Taken to its most extreme, they warn of vast labels listing the origin of dozens of ingredients, covering swathes of food packaging. Constantly changing labels would increase costs and waste. And inevitably, these additional costs will be passed onto customers. Everyone agrees consumers shouldn't be misled about the provenance of food. But where do we draw the line between this and the heaping of questionable bureaucracy on companies that may force some players out of the market and cut customer choice? On food labelling, as with everything else, knowledge is power. Devised properly they allow us to make informed choices about what we eat. But it is vital to find the balance between serving up portion-sized information that illuminates rather than dishing up an overload of data that risks keeping consumers in the dark and placing needless strain on food manufacturers".

Looking from another perspective, indicating the country of origin should not be an issue at all, if the manufacturing countries which export their food products have nothing to fear on the quality or safety count and probably such declaration should bring honor to them. If the products are good, consumers can be expected to prefer them over the locally made ones over a period of time. It is the industry which is having a problem as illustrated by the report above. While traceability is a desired goal which will be useful in identifying the source of food contamination responsible for food poisoning as and when it occurs, practicability of any strategy that is considered must be kept in view.


Thursday, June 24, 2010


Universal health insurance is a desired objective entertained by countries all over the world but very few have been able able to achieve coverage of the majority of population under their national insurance program. While life insurance which is becoming popular and affordable to many provides security to a family on the death of the insured, health insurance is a means of helping the family to fight against unanticipated contingencies due to many life threatening diseases. With medical and hospitalization expenditure becoming increasingly cost prohibitive, those with low surplus income are finding it difficult to keep away the threat of health afflictions. In a country like India government hospitals and health centers do provide some solace but the quality of the facilities and the medical staff is at best tolerable. Those who can afford high premiums charged by the insurance agencies have access to some of the best privately run hospitals with state of the art facilities. The Rwanda model is some thing unique, especially for a country considered one of the poorest in the world.

"The little prince is the first in his line to be delivered in a clinic rather than on the floor of a mud hut. But he is not the first with health insurance. Both his mother and grandmother have it, which is why he was born here. Rwanda has had national health insurance for 11 years now; 92 percent of the nation is covered, and the premiums are $2 a year. Sunny Ntayomba, an editorial writer for The New Times, a newspaper based in the capital, Kigali, is aware of the paradox: his nation, one of the world's poorest, insures more of its citizens than the world's richest does. He met an American college student passing through last year, and found it "absurd, ridiculous, that I have health insurance and she didn't," he said, adding: "And if she got sick, her parents might go bankrupt. The saddest thing was the way she shrugged her shoulders and just hoped not to fall sick." For $2 a year, of course, Rwanda's coverage is no fancier than the Mayange maternity ward. But it covers the basics. The most common causes of death — diarrhea, pneumonia, malaria, malnutrition, infected cuts — are treated".

For any country it is a choice between building hospitals for free treatment of the low income population needing medical attention or a universal insurance scheme that covers the entire population, leaving the running of hospitals in the private hands. Whether at low premium rates such a universal system can work efficiently may be a matter of concern for the planners. Probably the money spent on establishing and running the health centers and district hospitals under government aegis which do not inspire much confidence any way, can be better utilized in subsidizing insurance premium for poor people. One can also consider PPP mode for running medical facilities currently owned by the governments with adequate provisions for treating low income people under the universal health insurance scheme while others with adequate income can be charged as per normal norms.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010


Presence of antibiotics residues in human foods is an issue exercising the minds of food safety authorities world over because of fear of resistance by many pathogens to the action of antibiotics taken for combating many serious infectious diseases. Animal food industry is often found guilty of practicing indiscriminate administration of antibiotics to the animals to ensure safety of their products till they reach the consumers. But presence of antibiotics in honey, as reported recently in products originating from China has raised alarm signals as such practices are unheard of in the past.

"The Food and Drug Administration has just announced that it seized 64 drums of tainted honey from a Philadelphia distribution center last week. According to FDA sources, the honey was imported from China, and contained the potent anti-biotic "Chloramphenicol" which could lead to serious illness or death. Food safety specialists say that the anti-biotic was likely used to treat diseased hives – which is not legal in the US. According to the World Trade organization, China is the leading exporter of honey. Dr. Donald Schaffner is a food safety expert with Rutgers University. He says the general increase of Chinese food products sold in America poses some risk to consumers":

As China is a leading exporter of Honey in the world, such unethical practices will raise doubts about the bonafides of many other products exported by this country. The common concern being raised about the safety of Chinese food products probably could have prompted the FDA of USA to set up its safety monitoring offices in China last year. How far these safety out posts there will be able to get any insight into Chinese production and processing practices remains to be seen.



Food safety can be an obsession when it comes to consumption of processed foods manufactured by the industry in thousands of facilities with different hygienic, handling,and sanitary practices. Series of food poisoning episodes reported from different parts of the world in recent times do not help to boost consumer confidence on the ability of the industry to ensure absolute safety of processed foods available in the market. While it is quiet understandable that any indifference in the shop floor can reflect on the quality and safety of foods prepared there, the recent row about the vulnerability of pallets used for transport of packed foods as a carrier of pathogens may be a little too far fetched. But the findings by a group of investigators about high contamination of wooden pallets may call for more vigilance by the industry.

"The food safety/pallet issue re-emerged as headline news last week with the NBCLA story entitled Can Shipping Pallets Contaminate Your Food? Reporters went to a produce market and sampled water that a pallet was sitting in, not surprisingly finding it to be contaminated. This investigation was spurred by new sampling results from plastic pallet rental company iGPS, which found that "…one in every six wood pallets that transport food in Los Angeles, CA tested positive for one of three types of pathogens that spread easily and endanger the nation's food supply and the lives of American consumers." Either E. coli, Listeria, or Enterobacter cloacae, a bacterium that causes sickness and even death in people with lowered immune systems, were found on one in every six wood pallets tested in Los Angeles, according to the iGPS release. Tests were conducted in multiple locations in Los Angeles on both wood and plastic pallets used by supermarkets, restaurants and seafood retailers. In addition to the pathogens, the Los Angeles testing showed that 50 percent of all wood pallets sampled contained high bacteria counts in excess of 100,000 spores per gram, indicative of unsanitary conditions. Four of the wood pallet samples had bacteria counts in the millions of spores per gram range. Conversely, no pathogens and no high bacteria counts were found on any of the plastic pallets tested".

Pallets are generally used in products storage area and as long as this section is segregated from the processing facilities, there may not be much danger. The personnel working in pallet loading section also need to be barred from entering processing area to prevent cross contamination. That plastic pallets are free from harboring harmful bacteria and their hardy spores is a welcome relief for the industry and wooden pallets are increasingly being phased out, any way, on cost and availability considerations. As the study is funded by the organization that rents out plastic pallets to the industry, independent confirmation may be needed for added credibility. Probably industry may be well advised to sanitize the pallets, whether plastic or wooden, being used on a regular basis to give no quarters to the possibility of harboring contaminating pathogens.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010


It is rarely that consumers think that the foods they consume can be dangerous if not properly taken care of during handling or storage though these foods are self cooked with great care and caution. Every day foods may not pose much of a problem because of least time elapsing between preparation and cold storage. While uncovered food preparations can attract dust, insects and other vectors, and air borne microbes, many foods at ambient temperature and humidity conditions undergo chemical and physical changes which may not be desirable. The guidelines for keeping every day food preparations safe from the dangers of contamination are simple enough to follow by the house wives and food workers and making them a part of the daily chores can be quiet reassuring.

'Outdoor barbeques and picnics are traditional summer time activities and it's important to keep foods safe by following the food safety practices of Keep Food Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill. Following these rules will help reduce your family's risk of foodborne illness. When packing coolers for on-the-go food, pack just before you hit the road. Meat and poultry could be packed frozen so it will stay cold longer. Pack your cooler so that the foods you will use first are on top. Pack with lots of ice and/or freezer packs to ensure a constant cold temperature. A full cooler will maintain a cold temperature longer than a partially filled one. Keep the cooler out of direct sunlight and avoid opening the lid too often. It's best to pack drinks in a separate cooler since the beverage cooler is often opened more frequently. Pack perishable foods in the smallest quantity needed. In hot weather (above 90 F) food should never sit out for more than 1 hour. Generally, any food left out more than 2 hours should be discarded and 1 hour under extreme heat. Fruits and vegetables that have not been refrigerated within 2 hours of cutting, peeling or cooking should be thrown out. When grilling meat and poultry, always use a separate, clean plate for taking food off the grill".

Probably some of the steps recommended may appear silly but it is indisputable that they are based on sound principles of food science. Though the guidelines are for handling foods during out door travels, they are equally relevant to every day cooking practices. There is also a mistaken impression amongst many house wives that once the food is shoved into a frig it can be safe indefinitely but even at low temperatures food is vulnerable to spoilage after some time. Each food has a definitive life from the sensory as well as safety angles and this scientific truth must be accepted for evolving sound storage practices. Generally factors such as moisture, salt, acid and sugar present in a food determine its preservability and these must be kept in mind while storing foods at home. Besides the dry products like flours stored under ambient conditions are easy prey to insects and pests after a couple of weeks unless pre-fumigated by the suppliers and infested foods, even if no visible signs are evident, can also pose safety problems. Thus foods purchased and consumed with least time lapse can be the safest ones while adequate precaution at home can extend their usability by a few days.


Monday, June 21, 2010


There is a common perception that too many "scientific" reports, published even in peer reviewed journals are not believable 100% and added to this confusion is the contradictions contained in these reports, some of them expressing diametrically opposite opinions on same issues. Organic foods are preferred by many obviously because it is considered safer than their normally produced counterparts. Some claims regarding the nutritional superiority of organic foods are not sustained by adequate scientifically sound research as reported by a recent survey of literature published in a reputed journal.

"The latest review of research comparing the relative nutritional value of organic and conventionally grown foods was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition last week. Of an impressive 98,727 articles published over the past 50 years, the researchers found only 12 that they deemed relevant. They concluded that the existing evidence is not sufficient to suggest that organic food is any healthier. The same researchers came to the same conclusion last year, when they looked at 162 studies. But so what? Ignore the headlines that shout 'Organics not really healthier' or 'Organics are waste of money' – the truth is that the most significant finding of these reviews is that there is a paucity of well-conducted research. A large number of studies were excluded because they did not specify an organic certifying body; there was no information on the cultivar or livestock breed; no statement of which nutrient or nutritionally relevant substance was reviewed; no information on statistical methods; or no information on laboratory methods".

It is a sad reflection on the scientific skills and even the integrity of food scientists when hardly 0.01% of the articles on organic foods published during the last 5 decades are "believable" while the rest suffered from inaccuracies, experimental inadequacies, wrong interpretations and use of non-standard raw materials for the studies. Though this fact is not easily "digestible", the scientists need to "introspect" on the "fault lines" in their "products" and rededicate to the principle that science is "pursuit of truth", not for glory.



The explosive knowledge generated during the last 3 decades about the role of dietary fiber has spurred the food industry to develop many "designer" products containing whole grains which are considered high in fiber. Besides whole grains are also supposed to be rich in other nutrients like vitamins and minerals though some of the fiber fractions have the tendency to retard intestinal absorption of some mineral nutrients. While products containing whole grains in significant proportion are beneficial to the consumer, the tendency to add small quantities in a product and claim health benefits is to be frowned upon.

"Whole grains are good (although not the only) sources of B vitamins (which include riboflavin, folate and niacin), vitamin E, iron, selenium and magnesium. One cup of whole-wheat flour has 26% of the recommended daily value of iron, 36% of thiamine, 38% of niacin, 20% of vitamin B6, 13% of folate and 121% of selenium. Putting more whole grains in food usually translates into more fiber, but not always. If a product has just a bit of whole grains, chances are the fiber content will be low. For example, a serving (55 pieces) of cheddar Goldfish crackers made with whole grain has only 2 grams of dietary fiber. The trend toward adding more whole grains to food has been growing steadily since the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Department of Health and Human Services revised the dietary guidelines in 2005, recommending that at least half of all grains eaten be whole grains and that 3 or more ounces of whole grains be consumed per day. As a 1-ounce equivalent of whole grains has about 16 grams of whole grains, the recommendation is to eat 48 grams of whole grains a day".

Though a few manufacturers may be guilty of practicing such devious means to attract gullible consumers, strict labeling regulations can stop them from doing so. As the labeling rules in many countries do not demand exact proportion of ingredients in a product, the consumer may find it difficult to assess the validity of claims about use of whole grains. However, declaring the ingredients in the descending order on the label, with the highest one coming first, can still give a clue regarding the extent of healthy ingredients present in a packed food product. Branded foods with bloated claims must be shunned by the consumers as a part of a sustained campaign to punish the guilty without looking to the government for socour.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010


Striving for excellence is a human trait deeply ingrained, acting as the drive engine for stupendous achievements and history is replete with examples of such super human feats by ordinary mortals through sheer determination and Herculean efforts. But getting awards for negative achievements is unheard of in any field. Apparently there are organizations involved in tracking down worst performers in many fields of human endeavor. Here is an example in the food field.

"Here are some of the dishes that made the Xtreme Eating Awards 2010 list: Cheesecake Factory Pasta Carbonara: 2,500 calories Chili's Big Mouth Bites: 2,350 calories Applebee's Quesadilla Burger: 1,820 calories Outback Steakhouse New Zealand Rack of Lamb w/ sides: 1,820 calories P.F. Chang's Double Pan-Fried Noodles Combo: 1,820 calories Chevy's Crab & Shrimp Quesadilla: 1,790 calories California Pizza Kitchen Tostada Pizza with Steak: 1,680 calories Olive Garden Tour of Italy: 1,450 calories Bob Evans Cinnamon Cream Stacked & Stuffed Hotcakes: 1,000 calories (4 tablespoons syrup adds 200 calories) Five Guys' Bacon Cheeseburger: 920 calories It's not just calories that concerns the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The report says many of the dishes that made the list are also packed with things like sodium and saturated fat"

It is unimaginable that such monstrous servings are offered and consumers indulge in these foods ignoring the dangers involved in consuming such jumbo offerings. The human psychology of getting a good bargain at a low cost is at the center of such a mad "gorging orgy" which can only lead to catastrophe of unparalleled magnitude. As a first step there must be dramatic scaling down of the serving size followed by corrective steps to reduce calories, fat and sodium
in restaurant foods as much as possible, though it may involve some compromise on the sensory quality of the food preparations.



The hazards of modern life are exemplified by the recent revelation that man has to face more than 80000 chemicals during his life time with exposure limit varying depending on the environment where he lives and the food he eats. The latest finding that a few chemicals play a much more aggressive role in health damages is indeed startling and now is the time to seriously think about avoiding them at any cost.

"A growing body of research is linking five chemicals -- among the most common in the world -- to a host of ailments, including cancer, sexual problems and behavioral issues. We encounter them every day -- in plastic bottles, storage containers, food wrap, cans, cookware, appliances, carpets, shower curtains, clothes, personal care products, furniture, television sets, electronics, bedding, cushions and mattresses. In short, every room in almost every house in the United States is likely to contain at least one of these chemicals, many of which did not exist a century ago. They are bisphenol A, or BPA; phthalates; PFOA; formaldehyde; and polybrominated diphenyl ethers, or PDBEs. Tests reveal most of us now carry them in our bodies, but are they putting our health -- and the health of our children -- in jeopardy?"

It is easier said than done when one speaks of avoiding the every day risks posed by these hazardous chemicals. While food industry can progressively shift to organic foods, what about the others? There are many areas consumer can take control of himself by avoiding such products which are not absolutely essential in his day to day life while governments can be forced to be more stringent in regulatory controls of use of dangerous chemicals in frequently used consumer products.


India is a country where retailing of foods is controlled by the so called "pop & mom" stores, about 8 million in number working from small kiosks to large family owned provision stores, spread across every conceivable nook and corner of the country. Advent of modern retailing formats in the form of super markets, departmental stores and hyper markets did make a small dent in the predominance of the small scale stores and in spite of enormous investments by most of the major business tycoons in the retail sector, some with foreign assistance, organized sector still commands less than 5% of the retail market. The foreign investment policy of GOI has restricted the entry of many international players in the retailing field so far but sooner or later under WTO regime and other compulsions, India will have to throw open this sector to foreign players. In case that happens what will be the future of the retail landscape in this country? A new phenomenon called "Pop-Up" stores is emerging in the west and many of the local retail players may adopt this format for survival against the juggernaut of the organized players.

"Starting at 5 p.m. on a recent Wednesday, more than 200 shoppers descended on a red-painted building in an otherwise unremarkable Oakland neighborhood and left with some pretty fancy dinner fixings in their reusable grocery bags. Some carried pounds of boudin blanc sausages from former Eccolo chef-owner Chris Lee, bronze-cut rigatoni from his ex-sous chef Samin Nosrat, or chicken confit from Soul Food Farm. Others took home heat-and-serve potato-chard gratin from Mary Jo Thoresen and Curt Clingman of the recently closed Jojo, or frozen heritage pork gyoza from Sylvan Brackett, who worked in Alice Waters' office before starting his new Peko Peko catering business.By 7 p.m., the shoppers were gone, and the Pop-Up General Store closed down for two or three weeks, leaving local fridges and freezers well stocked with restaurant-quality foods to cook at home. The store is part of the new phenomenon of temporary eateries, farm stands and even one "underground market" that spring up here and there around the Bay Area, sometimes regularly in the same location, sometimes not. But so far the Pop-Up General Store is one of a kind because its wares carry an exceptional pedigree: They're made with pristine ingredients - Becker Lane pork, Soul Food Farm eggs, Riverdog produce - by a dozen or so Bay Area chefs, almost all of whom cook or have cooked at Chez Panisse".

With real estate costs soaring in many urban towns the existing retail shop owners may sell of their stores and get into the pop up store mode to continue with their lives. Probably many consumers might like their well known neighborhood retailer coming to their area in mobile platforms for providing them with their grocery needs. This phenomenon is already happening in many places in the country in a limited way with mobile vendors selling apparels, fruits, vegetables, hot foods, plastic goods etc from regular locations in residential areas with easy access to the house wives. Probably larger players may emerge in future using bigger trucks with more diverse merchandise once the organized retailing takes a stranglehold in the country.


Tapioca, known also as Cassava or Manioc, is a sturdy root crop providing staple food to more than 800 million people, mainly in African continent. It is also an industrial commodity used for manufacture of cattle feeds and starch and its down stream products. With a world production of about 200 million tons, Africa accounts for more than 50%, the rest being shared by Asian and Latin American continents. Though it is not a nutritious food, Tapioca serves the purpose of keeping famine and starvation away for many people in Africa. Its sturdiness can be gauged by the fact that the tuber can stay underground for more than 3 years with very little physiological damage but are vulnerable to more than 20 pests and diseases. The latest threat to it comes from the disease "brown streak" which is threatening to shake the very foundation of food security in Africa.

"Inside its tan skin, the white flesh was riddled with necrotic brown lumps, as obviously diseased as any tuberculosis lung or cancerous breast. "Even the pigs refuse this," she said. The plant was what she called a "2961," meaning it was Variant No. 2961, the only local strain bred to resist cassava mosaic virus, a disease that caused a major African famine in the 1920s. But this was not mosaic disease, which only stunts the plants. Her field had been attacked by a new and more damaging virus named brown streak, for the marks it leaves on stems. That newcomer, brown streak, is now ravaging cassava crops in a great swath around Lake Victoria, threatening millions of East Africans who grow the tuber as their staple food. Although it has been seen on coastal farms for 70 years, a mutant version emerged in Africa's interior in 2004, "and there has been explosive, pandemic-style spread since then," said Claude M. Fauquet, director of cassava research at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in St. Louis. "The speed is just unprecedented, and the farmers are really desperate."

Cassava mosaic virus (CMV) which had crossed continental barriers and jumped the seas to spread to all over the world is still a potent predator disease vector and if brown streak is able to repeat the "feat" of CMV, it is a question of time before Tapioca has to face extinction. Containment of this dreaded plant disease must assume priority for an organization like FAO and it should not be allowed to spread further beyond its present reach.



World over increased urbanization is a worrying phenomenon as massive migration of rural population into towns and cities in search of better earning opportunities and such population shift has far reaching impact on the future of these countries. While progressive decline in agricultural labor can adversely affect food production, the influx of uneducated and unskilled ruralites into urban regions becomes a burden on the already strained infrastructure creating massive slums in which they lead a miserable life. In contrast to this general phenomenon, Ethiopia is a country where the rural population has not changed for the last two decades and the reason for this has been attributed to the land policies being followed in that country by successive governments. Whether this trend is good for the people is a debatable point.

"Unfortunately, at the same time, the government has stuck to its radical policy choice of maintaining the previous regime's policy of government ownership of all land (public land tenure), despite the fact that it goes against the practical experience of most countries, both developed and underdeveloped. Over the past twenty years, this policy has had several unintended negative consequences. It has kept the rural population, specifically the population living on small farms, high. Because of the tenure system, farmers cannot easily sell their land for full value. They can rent their land and leave, but they tend to be reluctant to do so because they think that in their absence, their land might get taken away. They do not perceive that their tenure is secure, so they end up staying on their land. As a result, today, about 80-85% of the country's population live in rural areas, about the same percentage as twenty years ago. In absolute numbers, the rural population has increased from about 45 to 65 million, the overall population having increased from about 55 to 80 million".

In India the percentage of urban population is continuously on the increase and it is currently estimated that more than 30% of the country's population live in the urban areas. Such migratory trend has created a boom in land prices, exploited by the real estate industry. Ethiopian policy, to some extent has restrained the rural-urban migration while land values are not allowed to soar as is happening in many Indian towns and cities. The visionary idea of the former President of India, Dr Abdul Kalam to create urban living comforts in rural area is precisely to reverse the current trend of massive desertion from villages by landless labor population. How ever it is easier said than done with the present myopic rulers who are at the helm of affairs in the country, not able to see its wisdom.



Use of chemicals in foods for various purposes is an area of concern for many. Every body likes to believe that the foods offered in the market are safe for consumption and some have the philosophical attitude that there is nothing like absolute safety in any endeavor man undertakes. In spite of safety assessment protocols becoming more and more stringent day by day, lack of consensus amongst scientists still allows many chemicals to be used in food processing for different reasons. The new realization that these omnipotent chemicals would have debilitating effect on humans in the coming years if continued to be used, is prompting many responsible scientists and administrators to revisit the issue of safety and drastically cut their use unless proved safe beyond any shadow of doubt.

"By now, there are more than 80,000 industrial chemicals in commerce, but there is no available health information for roughly 62,000 of them. Meanwhile, many of these chemicals are finding their way into our food, air, water and common household products. For this very reason, the Maryland General Assembly acted just last month to restrict bisphenol-A (BPA), a suspected carcinogen, from baby bottles, and toxic flame retardants from food crates and other products. Fortunately, the President's Cancer Panel presents us with comprehensive, common-sense solutions going forward. In addition to raising awareness, the panel recommends tightening regulation of chemicals that may cause cancer. One suggestion is to ensure that a chemical is safe first, rather than continuing the dangerous practice of assuming that a chemical is "innocent until proven guilty." Changing this practice could also have a profound impact on the rates of asthma, learning disabilities and reproductive disorders, which are all increasingly linked to chemical exposure".

The BPA issue is a classical case where the manufacturers of containers use a cocktail of chemicals including BPA and still adamantly stick to their stand that the chemical does not pose any hazard, though voluminous scientific data have confirmed beyond doubt the dangers posed by it. Fortunately many big time processors have voluntarily shunned use of BPA tainted packing materials, probably afraid of any likely consumer backlash. There must be a universal agreement to weed out many additives used for cosmetic changes in processed final products. Health is more important than the brief pleasure one may get consuming a product incorporating many additives for the sake of improving appearance, aroma and texture. Fear of competition is forcing the industry to resort to technological gimmicks for "improving" products and get a higher consumer acceptance. A level playing field can be provided by banning many of the existing additives with even slightest of doubt about their safety, for use in foods. .


The statement that"deception, thy name is food industry" is becoming increasingly apt to describe some of the actions of a few major players in this sector continuously striving to mislead consumers regarding the true strength of their products. It is true that labeling provisions are becoming more and more stringent in many countries to preempt such attempts and give the consumer a modicum of confidence regarding the quality and safety of marketed foods offered to them by the retailers. But high stakes involved in making money through devious means are temptations enough for engaging high paying consultants to find loopholes in the law so that rules can be circumvented. Here is an example of a multinational food player blatantly exploiting the vulnerability of the consumer to claims on good health and well being

"The Federal Trade Commission barred Kellogg's last year from running ads saying Mini-Wheats are "clinically shown to improve kids' attentiveness by 20 percent." To claim "benefits to cognitive health, process or function provided by any cereal or any morning food or snack food," was a no-no, unless the claims were true. But the F.T.C.'s order covered only cognitive abilities. So just as it was signing its consent, Kellogg's was starting a new campaign in which "Snap, Crackle and Pop" called out to parents from the Rice Krispies box promising to help "support your child's IMMUNITY."

What is so galling is that a giant like Kellog's receives only a notice and a negotiated settlement is reached with the concerned authorities! A spurious claim like the one made by this company should have attracted severest strictures and massive punitive steps. Probably the common perception of many consumers that high and mighty amongst the processors "can get away even with murder" seems to be true. Otherwise it is difficult to understand the impunity with which the same company is scheming to repeat the same offense in other products even before the ink has dried in the negotiated agreement!

Monday, June 14, 2010


The ISO system of food quality management became a watch word for many industry to strive to get accreditation which gave them an image make over and a cover to hide some of their deficiencies. While having an ISO certification can make a difference in export business, very few Indians seem to have bothered about such a stamp knowing well their irrelevance under the conditions prevailing in the country. When ISO certification can be obtained easily even for public toilets, how can an ordinary consumer feel assured by products from such "stamped" companies. Same is true with organic foods production and marketing. While the present certification procedures are simple and affordable, the proposed changes to make it more stringent, time consuming, document oriented may defeat the very purpose of the program.

"If the marketing agreement were to go national this year under the Department of Agriculture, it would have similar provisions to a food-safety bill now being considered in the U.S. Senate. Brought forward by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the bill addresses food safety across the board — not solely for leafy greens. Although the impact of the California marketing agreement on food safety is still in question, the impact on small-scale and organic farmers is indisputable. "The financial costs are gigantic," said Roger Medina, food-safety manager at Lakeside Organic Farms. One significant added cost, he said, is the labor-intensive process of implementing the regulations. "It is documentation, documentation, documentation," Medina said. "The documentation has gone from make sure you have a plan, to make sure you document every sneeze, every cigarette butt you find out there." But this is not the only cost that farmers have to bear. According to the Small Farm Center, a Santa Cruz institute that researches the needs of small and moderate scale farms, farmers are losing up to 2 percent of their farmable acreage because they're required to have a buffer between crops and the surrounding environment. The center also reported that it cost about $11 per acre for some of those farmers to remove the surrounding vegetation, and about $17 per acre to put up fences to keep out wildlife. One analysis of the leafy green growers in California estimates that each farm now spends an average of $18,000 per year following the agreement, said Charlotte Vallaeys of the Cornucopia Institute, a farm policy research group based in Wisconsin".

Though the above diagnosis is based on the conditions prevailing in a country like the US, it applies equally all over the world. No doubt that there can be no compromise when it comes to consumer safety. But the cost-benefit balance must be factored into any practical system of surveillance which should be equitable to the producer as well as the consumer. Closure of small producers due to financial affordability factor, making organic food costlier and pushing it beyond the reach of a major segment of the population can be self defeating. Irrespective of the controversy regarding the nutritional difference between normal and organically grown foods, fact still remains that latter is certainly safer, especially for growing children.



Common man often wonders what to believe and whom to believe while trudging to eke out a decent life amidst the chaos that exist in most part of the world. While politicians and bureaucrats have lost their credibility long ago, scientific community was commanding some respect because of pioneers like late Sir C V Raman and other well respected stalwarts of yesteryear. Frequent allegations about plagiarism by Indian scientists progressively diluted the respect from the citizens and recent controversy about the blatant attempt by the IPCC of the UN led by an Indian "scientist" to increase the impact of global warming through misrepresented data must have shamed many people in this country as well as internationally. No amount of prevarication can undo the damage already done.

"But its reports have been dismissed by climate skeptics who attribute global warming to natural cycles. The skeptics were bolstered by a series of errors in the IPCC's 2007 report. Pachauri told the committee's first review meeting that the panel's conclusions are valid, even in areas where mistakes were discovered. Pointing to the most glaring error, a claim that the world's glaciers will melt by 2035, Pachauri said glaciers are indeed melting, though not that fast. Nonetheless, glacial melt accounts for 28 percent of sea level rise, and the panel's assessment on glaciers contains "a lot of facts which we can ignore at our peril." Pachauri said the panel is comprised of volunteer scientists contributing several years of their own time and who disband after issuing their report. The panel has no mechanism for responding to criticism once the reports are issued, other than the small secretariat".

One of the traits emerging lately is the ability of many disgraced Indians to show no remorse and justify their mistakes at any cost. In this particular case a wise option would have been to resign and express regrets in stead of continuing with the position that can only attract derision and contempt from the public as well as from the fellow scientists. A scientist of proven credentials and unsuspecting integrity is an asset no one would allow to retire and the IPCC members, if they are really sincere and above suspicion, should have put in their papers, leaving the judgment to others regarding their work.



Loss of fertile agricultural land consequent to the sky rocketing land prices near the towns and cities is a cause for worry in many countries. The real estate developers looking for land for developing their mega building projects provide lucrative incentives for the farmers to surrender their land and this trend has produced many millionaire ex-farmers with loads of money, not knowing what to do with it. Though there are constraints and restraints in transferring agricultural land from a genuine farmer to a non-agriculturists as per the law of the land, there are ways of getting around such impediments known fully well to every one involved in land purchase. While suburban lands appreciate in price at a slower pace, such a development puts pressure on core urban lands which command astronomical rates as part of a vicious cycle. Such a trend is sought to be broken by the Australian authorities in Sydney by considering a policy that will reserve lands around the city only for farming.

"Swathes of land in the Sydney Basin could be set aside for farming and market gardens under a proposal the state government is considering to stem the loss of agriculture in outlying suburbs. Under the idea, likely to rile developers vying for greenfield space on the city fringes, new planning powers would be developed to establish the farming-only zones. The Primary Industries Minister, Steve Whan, will reveal the proposal today at a conference on Sydney's food security and health hosted by the Western Sydney Regional Organisation of Councils".

This is a model worth studying for its impact on the prices of urban lands which get restricted due to bar on expanding around the core city area. A major advantage of such a policy decision will be the assured lung space that will accrue to the citizens who live inside the city perimeter and significant improvement of the quality of the environment. Barring industrial development near the urban centers will have far reaching impact on the overall quality of life of people who live there.Probably GOI can consider such an approach in dealing with the urban chaos that confront the nation to day due to uncontrolled growth of the towns and cities, without concomitant development of infrastructure to support such huge populations. Whether the land mafia that controls most of the urban areas in the country will allow such a radical policy changes is another matter.



What influences the buying decision of the consumers when they walk through the isles of the super market offering thousands of products with varying claims and credentials? Probably there may not be any standard answer to such a query because of the complexities and dynamics of human mind. While cost factor definitely plays a crucial role in the case of low and middle income group of families, there are many other more important issues that influence the minds of educated and well to do families. The label declaration on each food pack is supposed to guide the consumer but there is so much confusion and lack of transparency regarding label declarations that many consumers tend to disbelieve most of them, ultimately going by their past experience vis-à-vis the credibility of the brands.

"Our food environment is changing every moment. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. As it continues to evolve, we are faced each day with new decisions about what to consume. According to food researcher Brian Wansink at Cornell University, we make over 250 decisions each day about what to eat and what not to eat. No wonder it is such a challenge. New food products are released onto the market each week. Some are hits and last a long time (ex. Cornflakes, Cheerios). Some are misses and disappear almost instantaneously (Tab, Fruity Yummy Mummy Cereal). Notice what seems to be the current zeitgeist of new products--new health foods and high calorie desserts. For example, see the review by the Included in the new products this week are coconut flavored M&M. The reviewer doesn't fail to notice that coconut is actually not one of the ingredients in this product. On the other end of the spectrum, Healthy Choice: Creamy Basil Pesto frozen dinner scores points with the reviewer for having just seven grams of fat. The new products on this site give us a good idea of what we are up against as we stroll down the grocery store isles".

"Once bitten twice shy" aptly describes the dynamics of food purchase by the consumer though "human memory is short" governs the attitude of the manufacturers of new foods! Industry is "lucky" that there is no unanimity amongst food scientists, nutritionists and health professionals regarding the good or bad effect of any food or ingredients made by the industry and such a confusing situation is exploited by the industry expecting to derive "benefit of doubt" for the claims of quality and safety for their products. Nothing short of a miracle in the form of universal guidelines acceptable to all countries and enforced with determination, can reform the food processing sector in the long run and make the buying decision of the consumer less complex. Under such a situation consumer may focus more on sensory qualities of the brands they buy rather than worrying about issues like safety. .



Cadmium poisoning has never been heard before and the recent report about such a possibility therefore comes as a "bolt out of the blue". Japanese, consuming rice grown in Cadmium contaminated water, were reported to have encountered a disease by name "itai-itai" but not much is known about its seriousness or severity. The latest Cadmium scare in the US, fortunately, did not had any thing to do with food and the fast food chain McDonald's, only took a precaution realizing the potential for harm by recalling all the beverage glasses offered as part of its promotional campaign suspecting Cadmium tainting. Though Cadmium can be poisonous to humans at certain levels, it is unlikely that their concentration in foods consumed every day will reach such harmful levels. How ever smokers are more vulnerable to Cadmium poisoning because of the propensity of lungs to absorb this contaminant more efficiently than the gastrointestinal system in humans.

"McDonald's decision to recall 12 million "Shrek" beverage glasses that contain cadmium in their colored designs bears the hallmarks of a classic product-safety scare. Cadmium is a known carcinogen, and the Illinois-based fast-food giant was selling the glassware in a large-scale promotion tied to the popular children's film franchise. But as more information emerged Friday, events surrounding the recall became less clear. Federal regulators indicated the "Shrek" glasses do not pose a hazard. Yet that statement is difficult to quantify because there is a dearth of federal standards regarding acceptable levels of cadmium, an element found in everything from leafy green vegetables to cigarettes".

Printing inks used for multi colored graphics in food packages have not received the critical attention they deserve, especially in India where no standards appear to be in place for the printing industry to adhere to on food packages. Migration of some of the toxic chemicals contained in the inks into the food inside, can pose health hazards, with children being more vulnerable. A critical look at this area now may help to prevent any unlikely contingency in future on this count.