Fast foods in many western countries are at the receiving end because of their suspected role in contributing over weight, obesity and many life style health disorders. But this industry has shown remarkable resilience in overcoming such adversities and continue to thrive. They have become all the more visible these days when the economic melt down has reduced the buying capacity of many middle class families who can afford these foods easily as they are priced low due to the large business volume generated. Besides industry continuously strives to be sensitive to consumer concerns in modifying their products removing promptly any ingredient that has safety uncertainties as per consumer perception. The industry serves a useful purpose by providing highly standardized and tasty preparations within a matter of few minutes using most modern processing technologies. Recent revelation that this industry is increasing the convenient content further shows that it is not easy to demolish them from the mind of the consumer.
"Mos Burger branches across school campuses and Taipei City (around 20 in total) have already tested out the on-line meal order service. By mid-March, the new service will be available for the fast food establishment nationwide. According to Mos Burger representatives, the new service was created to shorten the waiting period for its customers. Although the company has a call-in service for orders, customers have complained that their calls often fail to go through. The prevalence of Internet-based services caused Mos Burger to roll out their on-line ordering process, testing it in January across Taipei City branches and those located on school campuses. The results were positive, and the company predicts that by mid-March, all 180 or so Mos Burger branches will take on-line requests. The Mos Burger website has two options for on-line orders: systematic and time-based. If the customer doesn't specify a time, his food will be made within ten minutes of his order, which will be ready to be enjoyed in the restaurant or for pick up. However, if the Mos Burger restaurant is at capacity, the customer may still have to wait".
Those who patronize joints like Taco Bell, McDonald's, Pizza Hut, Burger King, KFC or any other fast food serving place cannot fail to notice the quality of service and the premium on time accorded to their service. For many professional and busy people time is definitely a factor that determines their choice of eateries and these outlets fit admirably with the consumer expectation. Though the new innovation cannot be considered very novel, putting into practice the IT technology for providing faster service is some thing that does not exist till recently. Ordering of food through telephone can reduce the waiting time significantly but in a country like the US it is next to impossible to get a live human voice to listen to consumer needs. Therefore Internet is a possible practical medium that can allow the consumer to send across the order very fast and little time is lost between ordering and taking delivery of the menu items ordered. What is noteworthy is that this development is happening not in Europe nor in the US but in Taiwan in Asia! Three cheers.
What to do with date expired packed foods is an issue that has been debated for long ever since the present front of the pack labeling provision became mandatory in many countries. While manufacturers have the moral and legal responsibility to with draw such products and replace with fresh packs in the retail market shelves, some highly popular brands, in great demand, do not extend this service to its retailers. Probably retailers who depend on these products heavily to sustain their business have no choice but to allow them being wasted or adopt the dubious practice of repacking them to hoodwink the consumer. Therefore the problem becomes more of the retailer than that of the manufacturer. It was no long ago a Minister in the British Cabinet exhorted the consumers there not to waste the date-expired foods by throwing them away. It is rarely understood that expiry date often refers to the eating quality of the contents rather than their safety. Still consumers have a tendency to prefer food products with long expiry date, imagining rightly or wrongly, that they are much safer and of course they cannot be faulted. If the manufacturers are able to give same date information with respect to safety, lot of foods could be saved from going waste which is an inexcusable act considering the fate of millions of people who go hungry every day for want of access to affordable food. The Food Bank movement which has taken roots in many developed country are doing a yeoman service by redeeming date expired foods and distributing the same to poor people, after ascertaining they are safe. Those who work in this movement are "Angels" in this, other wise despicable, planet!
"According to Kate Mudge, the director of Food Rescue, almost every retailer in the Twin Cities participates. "It doesn't cost anything to participate, if anything it saves money from trash collection," she said. Companies also have tax incentives for participating. Major retailers include Cub Foods, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart and Byerly's, along with many other food sellers. The program has existed since 1984, but has taken off in the last five years. Similar programs exist across the country, but according to Mudge, this is one of the more formalized organizations. Food Rescue has eight refrigerator trucks in the metro collecting food from stores daily, and it is one of the largest programs of its kind in the country. Though the eight trucks run in the Twin Cities area, they also set up connections between stores and food shelves in rural areas. Food Rescue is completely safe and protected by federal law under the Good Samaritan Act. The program also offers a way for retailers to be green and increase sustainability efforts. Working with 224 donors across Minnesota and Wisconsin, they collected and saved around 12 million pounds in 2010. Second Harvest Heartland collects a total of 60 million pounds of food and year, with nearly 25 percent coming from Food Rescue. With the program still growing, they hope to collect 15 million pounds this year. The largest of their kind in the Upper Midwest, Second Harvest Heartland says on their website that they wish to relieve hunger through leadership and innovation. They are also a member of "Feeding America," a network of more than 200 food banks across the country. Collecting, storing, and distributing millions of pounds of food to those in need are the main goals of the organization. This innovative process of distributing food has a way to take what would end up being unnecessary landfill contents and feeding those who need it. Manufacturers refuse to let this food go to waste, and Food Rescue helps to make sure that doesn't happen".
A recent news item in print media in India claimed that GOI is "considering" the waste of foods in the country though the bland statement by a junior minister in the Parliament does not say where food is wasted and how they are going to be prevented. It took 64 long years after Independence for the "ruling elite" to realize "food is wasted" in large quantities in the country! This is while no less an agency like the Supreme Court indicted the very same government regarding its propensity to allow food grains to rot out side their storage Goddowns under their very nose! Do these political chicaneers have any more credibility left amongst the honest citizens in Indian republic, after the series of scams surfaced recently, involving siphoning of billions of rupees from the common man, obviously to line their own pockets and slash it away in Tax Havens?
Some times food industry can be wrongly indicted for doing things which some consider as undesirable. No doubt many practices being indulged by the industry deserve to be condemned in no uncertain terms and deterrent action taken with no leniency shown against proven culprits. But the latest issue which is being raised to insinuate the processing industry cannot be justified if a scientific assessment is made dispassionately. Use of cellulose which is not digested in human GI tract, often included in food formulations is considered harmless and is permitted by law. To castigate the industry that it is making people eat "wood pulp" is outright childish and preposterous.
"Chief among those concerns is the use of cellulose (read: wood pulp), an extender whose use in a roster of food products, from crackers and ice creams to puddings and baked goods, is now being exposed. What you're actually paying for -- and consuming -- may be surprising. Cellulose is virgin wood pulp that has been processed and manufactured to different lengths for functionality, though use of it and its variant forms (cellulose gum, powdered cellulose, micro-crystalline cellulose, etc.) is deemed safe for human consumption, according to the FDA, which regulates most food industry products. The government agency sets no limit on the amount of cellulose that can be used in food products meant for human consumption. The USDA, which regulates meats, has set a limit of 3.5% on the use of cellulose, since fiber in meat products cannot be recognized nutritionally".
Cellulose, if it is of food grade is a dietary fiber required for good health and according to expert recommendations an average adult must consume 25-30 gm of fiber daily to prevent development of a number of diseases. There are many natural sources of fiber with varying molecular structure and properties. While naturally occurring substances like beta glucan and pectin come under the soluble fiber category, cellulose and a host of non-starch carbohydrates serve as insoluble fiber. Both soluble and insoluble fiber are considered essential for good intestinal health in humans. Production of short chain fatty acids including butyrate in the human bowel by "friendly" microbes helps to strengthen tissues besides providing protection against some form of cancer. As long as the cellulose ingredients used is derived from edible plant sources, one should have no objection regarding their presence in processed foods. The levels of use are self-limited by the changes that will be evident if too much of this ingredient is incorporated in the food and besides its role in nutrition, cellulose also serves the technological necessity in creating desirable mouth feel in many products.
Saffron is considered the costliest amongst spices commanding as much as Rs 50000 a kilogram in the international market and highest quality saffron is supposed to be produced in Spain. One can imagine the extent of money that can be made even if there is a 1% adulteration of this spice with extraneous matters! But it is nothing but scandalous to hear about 50-90% adulteration of saffron that is reported to be taking place, the fraud estimated at millions of dollars globally. Poor consumers have no way to know how bad the saffron being bought from the market in good faith as there are no quick tests to determine purity. Here is a take on saffron fraud reported from Europe.
"Food officials have begun an investigation into claims that "red gold" is routinely adulterated with other, worthless parts of the crocus flower in a scam that is defrauding thousands of gourmands. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) has asked its counterparts in Spain to test the saffron being exported from that country after being tipped off that supposedly "pure and genuine" saffron on sale in the UK is of poor quality, and fails to supply the usual colour and aroma. An amateur cook in Britain prompted the investigation by using his own money to buy large quantities of saffron to be tested at labs owned by the Ministry of Industry, Tourism and Commerce in Spain, one of the largest exporters. His findings prompted the FSA to intervene. Saffron should be painstakingly harvested from the stigma of crocus sativus linnaeus, some 85,000 of which are needed to produce a single kilogram. Under international standards, the finest saffron – which sells for £6 a gram, £6,000 a kilo – should have only 0.5 per cent of "floral waste" and 0.1 per cent "extraneous matter". But the results on 10 brands purchased and sent for analysis, passed on by the amateur cook to The Independent, suggest that the use of other parts of the crocus range from between 40 per cent and 90 per cent. In other words, some "top-quality" saffron allegedly contains as little as 10 per cent of actual saffron".
One may recall the big saffron fraud that was going on in the sacred temple of Tirupati some years ago when it was discovered that even government approved samples were grossly adulterated with materials of non-saffron origin and saffron is an integral ingredient in the famous laddus sold as prasad to the unsuspecting devotees. One does not know whether such practices are still continuing though there is practical difficulty in getting 100% pure saffron, especially in a country like India which a "paradise" for food adulterators. It may not be any consolation for Indian consumers to know that saffron adulteration is a "universal" phenomenon! Probably the standards and prices of saffron should be linked based on purity, similar to milk which is priced depending on the fat and solids contents.
Escalating prices of food commodities are known to cause upheavals in many countries which are not self-sufficient in terms of production and too poor to afford high global prices. Most recent food-driven revolution devoured the Egyptian dictator and the "infection" seems to be spreading to other countries like Libya, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait etc. According to discerning observers at least 30 countries are vulnerable to food based unrest some of them likely to end up with regime change, if there is no action to control the run-away food inflation. While a debate on the reason (s) for food inflation may not find any one factor responsible for the food insecurity, it is more or less agreed that changes in food production pattern in some of the leading producing countries, probably due to weather uncertainties and consequent export policies play a critical role. The problem surfaced dramatically in 2008 when food riots took place in several countries, prompting international community to put their heads together for pre-empting such episodes in future through massive financial aid for helping out poor countries to strengthen their production base. How ever in spite of many promises, many rich countries from the G20 group shamelessly dithered while making actual contribution to the World Bank fund intended for the purpose. The result is that another food crisis is looming in the horizon for which world may not be fully prepared.
"After the last sharp price spike in 2008, the G-20 promised to invest $22 billion over three years to help vulnerable countries boost food production. To date, the World Bank fund that is supposed to administer this money has received less than $400 million. Food prices are now higher than their 2008 peak, driven by rising demand in developing countries and volatile weather, including drought in Russia and Ukraine and a dry spell in North China that threatens the crop of the world's largest wheat producer. The World Bank says the spike has pushed 44 million people into extreme poverty just since June. In 2008, 30 countries had food riots. That has not happened, at least not yet. Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, has benefited from improved agricultural productivity. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization warns that Mozambique, Uganda, Mali, Niger and Somalia are extremely vulnerable to instability because of rising prices, along with Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan in Asia, and Haiti, Guatemala, Bolivia and Honduras in Latin America. Misguided government policies could make matters worse. Some countries are stockpiling food. When India did that last year, food ended up rotting in storages. Others are imposing agricultural export bans, which discourages investment in production. The world's wealthier nations must press them to rethink these polices and back that up with real help. The Obama administration has proposed worthy initiatives, but even when Democrats controlled Congress it had a hard time getting the money. The administration pledged $3.5 billion to the G-20 effort. So far, it has delivered only $66.6 million to the World Bank fund. It is now asking for $408 million for the fund — part of a $1.64 billion request for its Feed the Future initiative, which aims to bolster poor countries' food production capabilities. Congressional Republicans are determined to hack as much as they can out of foreign aid. The continuing resolution passed by the House cuts $800 million out of the food aid budget — bringing it down to about $1 billion, roughly where it was in 2001".
Sociologists will have find an answer to this disturbing phenomenon which makes the rich less and less sensitive about the miseries of fellow human beings who lead a pitiable existence, not because of their own fault but due to the freaks of history. Look at the cruel psyche of the Americans who do not want to spare the much needed corn crops as food for African population but rather divert their surplus for bio-fuel production that would ensure that their automobiles run with lesser cost and with least disruption! While some of the wealthy countries are touting their food donations as their contribution to ameliorate world hunger problem, they are forgetting that it is not the "alms" that will bring long term succor to these unfortunate countries but a strong technological foundation only can ensure self-reliance and wealth generation. A day may not be too far away, if the prevailing apathy continues, when peace and serenity on Mother planet will be shattered and world will no more be a safe place to live.
Packaging of foods serves a major purpose viz to protect the contents from damage due to many factors. It also fulfills the needs of the manufacturer to communicate with the consumer regarding a multitude of information about the food being sold and the legal frame work put in place in different countries for the labels must be adhered to so that consumer is not misled into buying through unsubstantiated claims. Generally a good packaging system must help to retain the integrity of the pack till it reaches the consumer, enhance product attributes, communicate effectively with the consumer, lend it to easy opening, assure product authenticity and if possible counter act possible undesirable changes in the food packed. Though there are a number of alternatives available to the industry for packing various foods, advent of synthetic plastic materials has revolutionized the packaging scenario dramatically. Now comes the claim that plastic packing materials can be engineered to tell the consumer whether the contents are still safe for consumption.
"Plastic manufacturers could soon be seeing a new smart food packaging produced on their industrial conveyors, which could be set to revolutionise the food industry. Scientists at the University of Strathclyde have developed a new intelligent plastic that researchers are hopeful will be able to indicate when food is no longer suitable for consumption. The plastic has been developed to change colour when food deteriorates past a certain level. Lead researcher professor Andrew Mills explained that the current costs associated with producing and labelling modified atmosphere packaging are substantial. He added: "We are aiming to eliminate this cost with new plastics for the packaging industry. "We hope that this will reduce the risk of people eating food which is no longer fit for consumption and help prevent unnecessary waste of food." Recent research published by Pira International suggested that a newly developed bioplastics will be a major driver for the packaging market over the next five years".
Though the developers of this packaging material are confident about the reliability of the technology in foretelling the quality of foods without opening, whether it will work with all foods or is restricted to modified atmosphere packaged products is not clear. Regarding the claim that it would reduce the cost of packaging it needs a recheck as any innovation is likely to enhance the value and therefore could be more expensive. Nevertheless the concept of a non-destructive method for quality check in packed foods is worthy of receiving attention by the food industry and the innovators deserve full credit for their efforts. Probably much more will be heard about this development in the coming years and if and when fully developed, this technology may revolutionize the way food is packed and marketed.
Indian Railways (IR) can rightly claim to be a gigantic behemoth but with little control on its "arms and limbs". If statistics can tell a story IR has a fantastic national foot print connecting various regions in the country, costing the citizen practically nothing, its fares being very low compared to other modes of transport. Whether IR measures up to the expectation of the citizen is another matter and as is usual with all government controlled bodies, IR is a highly bureaucratized agency with very little autonomy to decide any thing on its own and naturally this is reflected in all its services. Food catering service to millions of travelers in thousands of trains every day is no exception with no one happy with the quality and cost of food served both inside the trains as well as at most of the Railway Stations where many trains halt for brief duration. The separate agency set up for this service , viz Indian Railway Catering and Tourism Corporation (IRCTC) seems to have failed the traveling public which necessitated the parent body IR to take over the function. Here is a take on this comic circus being indulged by the IR to throw dust over the eyes of the hapless customers.
Seeking to allay apprehensions of members over the new catering policy of the railways, Government today said it aimed at improving quality of food and services to passengers. The government decided to implement the new policy last year in view of a spate of complaints regarding quality of food and services under the earlier arrangement with the IRCTC, Minister of State for Railways Bharat Singh Solanki said in the Rajya Sabha during Question Hour. "The reason behind bringing this new policy was that people should get quality food at reasonable price. The decision was taken because there was a public perception that the corporation was charging more money and better food could be made available at that cost," he said. The minister said the vendors are engaged by licencees on their own terms and conditions and Railways do not have any contractual relations with the vendors appointed by the licencees, both erstwhile and present. "Even though the licencee may change, the vendors are always working with the new licencees....as per the Catering Policy 2010, all existing operationalised catering licences for minor units have been permitted renewal, subject to satisfactory performance and payment of all dues, which will take care of interests of such vendors," he added.
It is interesting to note that it was left to a junior minister of GOI to speak about catering in the Rajya Sabha reflecting the low priority accorded to food service in the mind of the Railway Minister of cabinet rank! In what way IR can perform the service better than IRCTC under the new policy can be imagined knowing well the mindset of "babudom" that runs the ministry from top to bottom. In a scam scorched country like India will any "babu" take a serious decision on reforms for fear of being hauled up for corruption. Demolishing some thing is easy but building a more efficient system is fraught with umpteen number of hurdles in the form of red tapism and rigid set of rules of archaeological vintage! This blogger had suggested several times in the past that catering in Railways must be entrusted to well reputed food industry players who can provide good quality foods besides taking the responsibility of safety to the traveling public. A government service can never be expected to be of class as proved by the flopping of several hotels under the tourism ministry during the last few years and junking of many food processing units being run by the States. When will the GOI learn the bitter truth that "running a business is none of the business" of any government? Why not take a lesson from past failures and think differently for the sake of millions of people who are forced to travel by trains under the IR due to many reasons to make the travel at least enjoyable gastronomically!
Olive oil is considered one of the most nutritious fats and as such it is valued very high in the minds of the consumers every where. The cardio-protective effect attributed to Olive oil was considered to be due to the rich content of oleic acid, a monounsaturated fatty acid though the polyphenolic antioxidants such as tyrosol and hydroxy tyrosol and tocopherol, also present in the oil play an important role. Besides Olive oil contains 11% polyunsaturated fats, both with Omega-3 as well as Omega-6 acids. More than 60% of the global production of olive oil, about 3 million tons annually, is accounted for by two countries, Spain and Italy. Since Olive is grown extensively in the Mediterranean region, it is often assumed that the good health with relatively less incidence of cardiac disease amongst the population there could be due to high consumption of the oil from this fruit. Olive oil is versatile fat used for cooking, in cosmetics and pharmaceutical products and for making high quality soaps. As per the international Olive Oil Council (IOC), Extra Virgin Olive oil shall contain less than 0.7% free fatty acids while Virgin Oil can have up to 2% acid. How ever what is interesting is that consumers are reported to have a preference to rancid oils, probably due to price considerations. It is recognized that such preference for products considered inferior is acquired over a period of time and the reported ready acceptance of rancid Olive oil could be because of this factor. Considering that olive oil is associated with better cardiac health, consumers must be "tolerating" rancidity to some extent.
"The new study captured the preferences of 110 Northern California olive oil consumers and the reasons for those preferences. The study participants were asked to taste and rate 22 commercial olive oils that were labeled as extra virgin. Half of the oils in the study were imported, and half were from California. The study found that 74 percent of the consumers did not like what the expert tasters identified as high-quality oil — those that were bitter, pungent and free of defects. Bitterness and pungency are two of the positive sensory attributes of high-quality olive oil, as identified by International Olive Council standards. The researchers note that, in the case of other food products such as specialty beers and coffees, bitterness is an attribute that consumers initially dislike but learn to accept. They suggest that consumers might find bitterness and pungency more acceptable when using olive oil with food and in cooking and by knowing that healthy antioxidants in the oil are the cause of bitterness and pungency. Consumers participating in the study did like those olive oils that had the third desirable attribute of extra virgin olive oil, which is fruitiness. In order for an olive oil to be considered extra virgin, it must have some fruitiness and zero defects such as rancidity. Surprisingly, 44 percent of the consumers liked the olive oils that had rancid flavors, even though this is an undesirable quality that would disqualify an olive oil from being considered extra virgin. The study also found that 74 percent of the study participants said they use olive oil for its health benefits; other reasons included for use in a recipe, bread-dipping in restaurants, family tradition and flavor".
Olive oil is reported to be extensively adulterated and considering the high prices commanded by this product it is no wonder that fraudsters see lot of money in adulterating this oil. Adding chlorophyll to simulate pure pressed Olive oil and diluting with oils like soy oil and many undesirable practices indulged in by the trade have brought a bad name to this wonder oil and IOC with 23 member countries controlling 95% of production, is striving hard to protect its reputation through cooperative efforts to control the market. A larger question is whether Olive oil really deserves the euphoria that has made it the costliest cooking oil consumer has known. There are many plant oils with similar chemical composition which also may be as effective if not more, that can match Olive oil but tradition, history and high profile promotion were able to put it on a high pedestal.