Friday, September 3, 2010


The sad state of affairs vis-a-vis food safety in India is mainly due to paucity of personnel for enforcing the food laws enunciated by the country, supposed to be a "joint enterprise" between GOI and the state agencies. FSSAI the empowered GOI agency is supposed to evolve standards and safety paradigms while municipalities and civic bodies under the jurisdiction of the state administration have to monitor the trade to prevent economic fraud and food adulteration. The big charade going on in the country under the pretext of food safety management leaves the consumer high and dry while the culprits who indulge in malpractices injurious to the interests of the consumer have a free field unhindered and unfettered. Probably this may be true in many developing countries where scarce resources, limited pool of experienced technical personnel and sub-par testing facilities hamper regular and sustained safety management operations. Even if India decides to produce thousands of inspectors and chemists to adequately cover the country, it may take several decades to fulfill the need. This is where voluntary forces can provide some relief to the government. Of course these volunteers are not intended for any prosecution operation but to educate the consumers regarding safety practices, nutrition and health aspects. An informed consumer is always an "enemy" of those indulging in marketing foods unfit for consumption.

'Virginia Cooperative Extension is training people to become Master Food Volunteers with a program focused on food safety practices, nutrition and physical well-being. The pilot program began last year and courses will be offered again this fall. Christine Kastan is an extension agent and said making sure raw food is cooked fully and properly is just one chapter in a book Master Food Volunteers will learn from. "What our program teaches is how to prevent cross contamination through proper use of cutting boards, making sure foods are cooked to the proper end temperature and making sure our hands are clean," said Kastan. Once the course is completed, Master Food Volunteers will then teach educational programs in the community including schools, farmers markets, and health fairs. "Currently we're under going budget cuts and we have fewer and fewer family and consumer sciences extension agents to deliver researched based educational programs to meet the needs of the community," Kastan said. Extension Agent Tracy Nedza says Master Food Volunteers will also learn about proper food preservation and nutrition. We talk to them about whole grains, fruits and vegetables, what is an appropriate serving size," Nedza said. Master Food Volunteers will learn the importance of utilizing locally grown produce and how to prepare them. "Especially for people that don't grow up having this wide variety of foods, it encourages them to kind of experiment and try new and different things," Nedza said. Volunteers come from a variety of backgrounds including dietitians and retirees. They must commit to at least 30 hours of community service but the most important requirement to become a Master Food Volunteer is to have a love of cooking'.

Whether such an approach will succeed in India depends on "honor and respect" that can be bestowed on people who come forward for volunteering. At present people with technical background are not given the importance due to them and there are thousands of retired people languishing all over the country not because they are not useful but due to "accident" of birth as completion of 60 years send most of them into compulsory "retirement". Why not use these knowledgeable, experienced and accomplished work force for different nation building activities? In the food area retired food scientists can be effectively deployed for training volunteers in extension activities that would educate the consumers as is being done in some countries. Even giving limited powers to these "mature" citizens for "spotting" sub-standard and unsafe foods in the market probably may act as a deterrent against adulteration in the long run..


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