Saturday, April 30, 2011


Front pack labeling seems to be an issue of perennial controversy. It is unfortunate that there is no unanimity amongst WTO member countries in evolving a globally acceptable format that could have facilitated world trade with minimum hassles. Unfortunately each country seems to be tinkering with its national regulatory formats which often do not make much sense. Latest instance is the on-going consideration in Europe for modifying the existing labeling regulations to insist on including a provision to declare Halal meats and Jewish meat products that "they are processed by killing the animal without stunning". The rationale behind such a move may be to satisfy animal activists who propagate elimination of cruel practices while handling the slaughter house bound animals. Here is a take on this latest avoidable controversy.

"Consumers could be told whether the meat they buy comes from animals that have not been stunned before slaughter, following a move in the European parliament. MEPs on the food safety committee voted on Tuesday to back amendments to a food labelling bill that would see the mandatory inclusion of labels stating "meat from slaughter without stunning" on relevant food products. The proposals, which go before the European parliament in July, target meat slaughtered using ritual techniques like those employed by Jewish shechita and Muslim halal butchers. Animals killed by the shechita technique are not stunned before having their throats cut and blood drained out. Halal meat is slaughtered using a similar technique, although research by the British Veterinary Association suggests 80% of halal meat is stunned before slaughter. Religious groups have expressed anger at the proposals. A Jewish campaign group, Shechita UK, controversially claimed the measure was the "21st-century equivalent of the yellow star, but on our food". "This amendment does nothing to improve animal welfare, fails to fully inform consumers and is clearly discriminatory by design," said Henry Grunwald, spokesman for the group".

Critics have a point in condemning this proposal as stunning is only one step that spares the agony of the victim. If one has the opportunity to see the documentary "Food Inc.", it is very clear that most of the meat industry majors have scant respect to animal welfare and no one seems to be bothered to discipline this powerful industry so that both ethical as well as food safety aspects receive the attention due to them. More over when the products are classified as Halal, every consumer knows that they are processed through religious diktats and the animals are slaughtered without stunning. The move smacks of religious discrimination by encouraging the consumers to shun Halal and Shechita meats.


Friday, April 29, 2011


Food technology has made tremendous strides during the last century and to day there are many modern and sophisticated processes that can process and preserve foods in prime condition. Recently there was some controversy regarding the ability of food technological practices to deliver a product as fresh as the field harvested produce and the inescapable conclusion is that technology can ensure high quality and safety but the consumer has to sacrifice the freshness as a trade off for longevity of the foods. Though frozen foods are often cited as an almost perfect technology that can preserve the freshness, here again some changes do take place that differentiates them from really fresh foods. Recently another technology has emerged that promises to help processing industry to further boost the "freshness" credentials to some extent. The new modified atmospheric processing attempts to reduce quality loss during processing without the use of chemicals.

"Working through hermetically-sealed gloves in the glove box in an atmosphere of less than one per cent oxygen, researchers were able to dice fruit andvegetables without the enzymatic browning caused by cutting in an oxygen-rich environment. The technique was also used to chop, puree or juice fruit and vegetables. "There has been limited research carried out in this area but depending on the application, modified atmosphere processing may reduce browning or discoloration of a product by significantly reducing exposure to oxygen," said Potter. When fresh produce is cut, it starts to brown quickly due to tissue damage, PPO (polyphenol oxidase) enzymes oxidise with exposure to oxygen causing browning. "If the oxygen is removed this reaction can be reduced or delayed maintaining the fresh cut colour of the produce for longer without the use of sulphur dioxide," said Potter. In addition to processing foodstuffs within the glove box, researchers are also studying the effects of bagging and sealing foods in the same low-oxygen environment. After bagging and sealing, the product can be withdrawn through a port which is also atmospherically controlled".

Though the claims by the developers are based on limited studies carried out on a small scale, the new technique seems to be holding promise for the industry to dramatically improve the quality of processed foods in the coming years. It may be recalled that high pressure processing technology developed some time back was restricted in its use because of logistical problems in evolving a continuous process, though there are reports that continuous plants are now being offered. Similarly processing continuously under modified atmosphere calls for development of engineering skills of high order and if such plants are eventually evolved, the new technology may have some takers.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


Jute industry, made up of about 66 mills, is located predominantly in the state of West Bengal and their main product, the jute sac is purchased by the GOI for packing food grains for storage and distribution. That quality of the sack has a critical bearing on its ability to protect the grain for long periods is well known and it is mandatory for the Jute Mills to supply as per the well-laid standards specified for its quality. However a serious fraud seems to be taking place through collusion between the government personnel entrusted with jute sac procurement and the suppliers causing almost Rs 9 billion loss annually to the exchequer. It is condemnable that these fraudsters perpetuating this scam have no social conscience about the wastage of precious food through supply of inferior sacs for lining their pockets. Here is a take on this episode.

"Meanwhile, the Punjab government has already written to the Union food ministry, requesting for the use of polythene/plastic bags for packing of food grains in the ongoing Rabi season and the upcoming Kharif season under its PUNGRAIN scheme. It is estimated that the mills are cheating the government to the tune of around Rs 72 crore per month by supplying 4,000 bales of inferior quality and used bags that are almost 65 gms lower than the standard weight of 665 gms. While the mills are quoting a price of a new B–Twill bag at Rs 37, they are only supplying used and inferior quality bags weighing 600 gms and priced at around Rs 33.36. In this way they are making an illegal income of Rs 3.64 per bag and Rs 1820 per bale. Almost 40 per cent of the annual industry production of 1.2 million tonnes of jute bags is purchased by the government under the Jute Packaging Materials Act of 1987".

The Jute Mills should be grateful to GOI for purchasing almost half their production of jute sacs at a profitable price and if FCI switches over from the jute sac to woven plastic sacs, there could be disaster waiting for the industry with most of them forced to down their shutters. In stead of being appreciative of this arrangement, it is reprehensible that the industry is trying to "bite the hand that feeds it." GOI is right in taking severe action against those indulging in this crime and no punishment will be too big for these fraudsters.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011


What ever one may think or say about Pakistan as a viable nation, credit must go where it is due. This is with reference to the restrictions put in place in 1997 regarding hosting feasts on occasions like marriage which many observers believe has benefited the country in terms of reducing unnecessary wastage of food. The restriction is basically on the menu that explicitly compels the hosts to confine to very few items. In contrast a poor country like India has millions of millionaires who spend billions of rupees to organize parties and feasts with more than two dozen courses. While one should have no quarrel regarding the right of individuals to spend their money as they deem fit, it is another matter that in most cases more than 50% of the food served ends up in the public garbage dumps. Of course there are scavenging destitute population and animals and birds benefiting from this waste. It is funny to note that GOI is now concerned about these lavish feasts and want to consider imposing some restrictions. Whether such concerns will translate into any concrete action remains to be seen

"Indians planning lavish wedding parties may face pressure to slim down their menus, as the government considers curbing celebrations that highlight a growing gulf between rich and poor. Food Minister K.V. Thomas said April 18 that a panel will consider limiting the number of guests who can be invited to weddings and other social events, as well as the dishes they can be served. Neighboring Pakistan restricts such revelers to one plate of food, he said, something India could emulate. While India's government is reacting after soaring food prices dented the popularity of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, leading to nationwide protests, wedding planners and policy experts said the proposals would be impossible to enforce and fail to address the root cause of food insecurity in India, home to 42 percent of the world's undernourished children, according to the International Food Policy Research Institute. "It's absolutely ridiculous, it's a reactionary, poorly thought through, populist measure which I don't think is implementable," said Ashish Abrol, a former Deutsche Bank AG wealth manager and employee of International Business Machines Corp., who started the wedding planning firm Big Indian Wedding last year. Consumer-price inflation at 9 percent is the highest in the Group of 20 nations after Argentina and Russia. Thomas says up to 30 percent of food is wasted at weddings in India. About 40 percent of India's fruit and vegetables rot before they can be sold because of a lack of cold storage facilities and poor transport infrastructure, according to government figures".

How far the government will be able to enforce such restrictions is a matter of conjecture. Years ago there was the Guest Control Order which was promulgated to save food when there was food scarcity in the country and the experience in making it work was not encouraging. Austerity must be a national culture and if every one makes necessary sacrifice wastage automatically gets eliminated from the society at large. If there are exceptions for VIPs and other influential people to the food control order, naturally ordinary citizen will not be enthused about the whole idea. India is considered the capital of "black money" and it is known that construction of super luxury homes and throwing lavish dinners are the major routes for spending such unaccounted wealth. Such restrictive orders should not be another route for the babus to make money through bribes for closing their eyes to blatant violations by these super rich people!



"Shame" is a powerful emotional trauma many people find it hard to face, according to human psychologists and there are many instances when shame has driven affected people to even committing suicide. How ever percentage of people who are sensitive to shame is progressively declining and with political landscape in many countries becoming breeding grounds for corrupt and shameless political and business classes, the word shame may lose its relevance eventually. While we have instances like students and farmers committing suicide because of their inability to face humiliation due to examination performance or unbearable debt burden, there are shameless people who are not unduly concerned about criminal indictment, breaking of law, corruption scandals or moral turpitude. Therefore it is surprising as to how the Canadian food authorities have come to the conclusion that naming and shaming of food law violators would desist them from committing same crime again. One has to really see how this new system will be able to reduce the incidences of food safety violations in future.

"In a switch of policy, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency this week began publishing details of its law-enforcement activities on its website. While the federal agency used to publish the names of individuals and businesses that had been successfully prosecuted for breaching its rules, it now will name entities involved in CFIA investigations. The new policy kicked in on March 16 as part of what CFIA senior media relations officer Guy Gravelle termed an "ongoing transparency initiative." It has published this information for the months April 1 to Dec. 31, 2010. Gravelle explained that the rationale for the change in policy reflected the federal government's commitment "to providing consumers with information on enforcement action being taken to protect the safety of their food supply, and the animal and plant resource base upon which safe food depends." He said the agency "is committed to delivering on its mandate in an open and accountable way while continuing to work closely with the Canadian food industry to ensure they have clear guidance on how to achieve compliance."

Though Canadian government may be confident about the moral standards of their citizens based on which the new policy was evolved, it is doubtful whether such deterrent policies will ever work in a country like India where most politicians and bureaucrats are considered corrupt. Once the veneer of respectability is removed due to any incidence involving violation of societal norms, the tendency is to become more and more hardened culprits/criminals with practically no shame left. More over naming the culprits in the web site of the food safety agency may have exposure only to a few hundred people in a country with more than one billion population, the net effect being practically nil. Under such an environment strong penal action and cancelling the production license only will work as a deterrent, though here also a weak organization like FSSAI in India is not equipped to punish real criminals in the food sector who commit their food crimes with full impunity!


Tuesday, April 26, 2011


In general the food quality and safety surveillance system in India is considered weak with hardly any convictions taking place against food adulterators while the country is flooded with spurious, sub-standard and unsafe foods of local make as well as imported. Even the small number of culprits caught and punished are private traders and some small industry players while government connected agencies dealing with food are never checked. A number of cooperative dairies peddling milk and milk products are known to violate government standards but it is rare that their samples are picked up for testing by the food authorities. A dichotomy that deserves condemnation because adverse effect on consumer due to unsafe foods whether from the private source or government source, will be same. Here is a case of food grains of questionable standard being channeled through the PDS system with no one too much concerned about it.

"The report of the comptroller and auditor general (CAG) of India has revealed that no tests are being carried out to determine the quality of foodgrains to be distributed under public distribution system (PDS). Food grain is received from the food corporation of India (FCI) by the state government. The report states that to ensure the prescribed quality of food grains, the PDS (Control) Order, 2001stipulates that before making payment to the FCI, state government representatives or nominees and the FCI should conduct a joint inspection of the stocks of foodgrains intended for issue. The order also states that the FCI should issue stack-wise sealed samples of the stock of foodgrains supplied to the state government for distribution. "It was observed in audit that such joint inspections to ensure the quality of foodgrains as per the PDS (Control) Order, 2001 were not conducted by the department during the period spanning 2005-10. The department also did not obtain sealed samples of the stock of food grains supplied by FCI during the period 2005-10", the report stated".

Whether there are explicit instructions from the state governments which control the public health department dealing with food safety and quality, not to take any samples from the organizations like dairies is not known. Another probable reason could be that government agencies do not pay the bribe to inspectors which is a "disincentive" against proceeding against them. GOI may be too concerned that if real quality checks are done a substantial portion of the food grains would be found unfit for human consumption, causing disruption to PDS! Unfortunately the poor "Aam Admi" is the silent sufferer because of this dichotomy on the part of the government.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Eating out practice is becoming more and more ingrained into the life styles of most urban dwellers and with increasing wealth accumulation through better economic development, the so called middle class population do not want to be left out of the pleasure of eating out more and more frequently. This trend is further accentuated because of the socio-economic changes taking place in many developing countries resulting in more number of nuclear families. With both husband and wife working for earning adequately to maintain a decent life style, time is at a premium and the kitchen responsibilities are progressively getting reduced. Under such circumstances it becomes the primary responsibility of the health authorities to ensure that restaurant foods are absolutely safe. Though there are many serious food poisoning episodes, reported in the Western world from restaurant foods, in absence of any verifiable documentation system in countries like India, the seriousness or other wise about any danger posed by food preparations served in catering places in these countries cannot ascertained. The initiative by the Colombo authorities to put in place a vigilance system to monitor the health conditions of the workers in restaurants is indeed laudable. Probably urban regions in other countries also must consider emulating this effort for the sake of tourists as well as the local population that frequent public eateries.

Concerned by mounting health complaints from guests who have fallen ill after consuming food served in Colombo hotels, the Colombo Municipal Council which recently made it mandatory that all food handlers and staff in the hotel industry get a medical check up, is stepping up these operations. "We're not doing this to harass the hotel industry, but rather to help the industry which is developing rapidly now with many more tourists and locals patronising it and consuming hotel meals," Dr Pradeep Kariyawasam, Chief Medical Officer of the Colombo Municipal Council told The Nation. "Many of the health problems resulting from the consumption of hotel meals could have been passed by the food handlers themselves. This is why we think it is important that all hotel staff especially food handlers, undergo a thorough medical check up."

In India each municipal body has a health officer vested with the responsibility of monitoring the hygienic and sanitary conditions of the public eateries licensed by it but with grossly inadequate facilities and personnel, such offices are more decorative than functional. The quality of workers employed by these eateries is no body's business with all sorts of people including children being deployed by the industry. Most of these workers are illiterate, unhealthy, lethargic besides being too poor to maintain good health conditions. Most state governments are too much concerned about the "rights" of these workers like minimum wages, bonus and other working conditions while their responsibilities vis-a-vis keeping good health and appearance are totally ignored. It is time for an overhaul of the working force in the hotel industry keeping in view the interests of customers, workers and the management.


Sunday, April 24, 2011


Graduating from a small business into the big league is not an easy task and no lesson seems to have been learned by those aspiring to be big about the increased responsibility that comes along. The recent set back suffered by one of the ethnic food manufacturers in India being hauled up for safety violations in Canada must provide a warning about the dangers in lowering the guard by the manufacturers in conforming to the food laws of the country where their products are marketed. This particular case is relatively minor as the manufacturer was guilty of using an allergic chemical ingredient without declaring its presence on the label but it still can cause lot of damage to the image of the brand as well as that of the country.

"In what could be considered a setback to the Rs 500-crore Haldiram's Food International Limited, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency(CFIA) has warned its country's citizens against consuming the city-based group's petha sweet as the product contained sulphites, which are sulphur-containing compounds used as additives to preserve food and beverages, but which, in rare cases, can also lead to life-threatening reactions in allergic or sensitive persons. According to sources, the Toronto-based importer of Haldiram's Petha - Quality Natural Food - has voluntarily recalled the product from the markets. The importer has also cautioned Canadian citizens, especially those suffering from allergies, not to consume the sweet as it may lead to life-threatening reaction. This sweet, believed to have originated from Agra and sold across the world including Canada, contains sulphites as one of the ingredients whose quantity has not been declared on the packaging. Director of Haldiram's group on Nagpur Sushil Agrawal admitted that they had received a message to this effect from their Canada-based dealer and they would soon be initializing steps to make necessary changes. The company has recalled about 20 cartons costing about $300 (Rs 15,000). "It's happening with us for the first time but it's not a serious matter. They just wanted to have percentage of Sulphite contents printed on the packets. We anyhow mention use of Sulphite as one of the ingredients but haven't specified its percentage in parts per million (PPM). Now, we will paste new stickers having mention of Sulphite percentage in PPM on the packets," he clarified".

Petha, generally made from ash gourd traditionally in some regions of Uttar Pradesh in India by micro enterprises or home based small units, many of which lack adequate infrastructure for maintaining uniform quality and ensuring consistent safety assurance. It is for the marketing organizations who undertake the responsibility of exporting these products to provide at least the necessary technical inputs to generate confidence amongst the buyers. India food industry is known to ignore the importance of technical personnel in quality and safety assurance, often employing cheap and under qualified workers to man their operations. The consequences of such neglect, what ever be the reason, can be catastrophic in the long run and the "writing on the wall" is clear-"change for the good or perish"!

Friday, April 22, 2011


During the last six decades there has been incessant chanting by every government that ruled India that food processing is critical to the development of country's economy. Every politician with every hue does not lose an opportunity to give an expose regarding the low value addition to agricultural commodities achieved in the country and predominance of low value food items in the basket of national exports. That food industry is a logical corollary to agricultural sector is indisputable and GOI did recognize this truth when the specialized MFPI was set up in late 1980s. That this ministry was invariably "managed" by a junior minister. is another matter that reflects the gap between preaching and practice. Umpteen number of seminars, conferences, workshops, meetings with GOI babus have been making the point that processed food must not be taxed at all for at least for a few years to enable the processing industry to establish itself on a firm foundation and making packed foods available to the consumer at the lowest cost possible. Every Finance Minister (FM) of GOi had ignored this so called sun-rise industry and tried to milk it as much as possible to enrich its coffers! Here comes the latest blow to the industry with the present FM putting another economic burden on the food sector through his ill-advised levy in the form of excise duty which ought to be condemned in no uncertain terms.

"The entire food processing industry is feeling the pinch of this announcement (excise duty). We have written a letter to the Finance Minister. I hope he will look into it," Minister of State for Food Processing Harish Rawat told reporters here. He said that industry bodies have complained that the 130 items on which 1% excise duty has been increased include food items as well and this will lead to an increase in prices. Food inflation came down to 9.52% for the week ended February 26 from 10.39% in the previous week. Rawat, while inaugurating the National Seminar on food ingredients and additives on the sidelines of the Aahar 2011 international food and hospitality fair, said, "The ministry has requested the Finance Minister to keep GST and other taxes at a minimum level." The All-India Food Processors Association (AIFPA), which organised the seminar, has sought the removal of 1% excise duty on food and agricultural commodities, besides the waiver of Goods and Services Tax (GST) on food items. "With GST also, there should be no tax on food. When you tax food, you are taxing the value addition in the sector and this will lead to price rise as cost of inputs will go up and my worry is this will further increase the inflation," AIFPA President Piruz Khambatta told PTI.

No wonder many industry captains feel that they do not need any prop from the government and they would be happy if the rigid bureaucratic stranglehold by the government is done way with immediately. If governments do not want to help in any significant way, at least there should not be any road blocks that can affect the morale as well as the motivation of the entrepreneurs. Interestingly total revenue collected by various government agencies through their multiple taxation regimes on food industry is so minuscule that fore going the same will not be a sacrifice in any way. On the other hand, such a step will provide the necessary spark for a strong industry capable of generating millions of job opportunities and a host of products so vital for the consumers. Probably a strong industry after attaining some critical size may even contribute to the exchequer substantially in the long run.


Thursday, April 21, 2011


Street vending is a phenomenon that is here to stay and almost all countries in the world have some or the other form of open air eating on the sides of many roads in most of the urban areas. The transformation of the street vendor who is a humble and low income entrepreneur into modern business man is remarkable in a country like the US where Food Trucks are taking over the functions of providing open air foods to customers with some loyalty to fresh foods cooked in front of them. Even in the case of modern food trucks there are issues concerning quality and safety of food offered by them though the chances of any epidemic of food poisoning is relatively less. In the traditional road side vending hygiene and sanitation become a casualty because of many reasons which include low awareness and high illiteracy amongst many of these vendors. Unless safety authorities exercise effective vigilance, the unsuspecting customers can become a prey for food borne diseases. The sudden interest by the Mumbai food safety agency in announcing stricter monitoring regime is note worthy but whether this will be translated into practice is a million dollar question!

"In a bid to crack down on unauthorised roadside vendors selling food in unhygienic conditions, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) will now form special ward-level squads. These squads will carry out regular surprise visits in their areas to ensure quality of food items. The decision was taken after a pani puri vendor in Thane was caught on camera while urinating in a vessel which he was using to store pani. After the news reports, MNS workers had vandalised food stalls across the city, thereby pressuring the civic body to take immediate measures. Officials had said that a meeting of top health department officials of the BMC was called to chalk out an action plan. Civic officials said instructions regarding the formation of special ward-level squads have been issued. The official also said the quality of the food served by these vendors will now be under scanner. Additional Municipal Commissioner Manisha Mhaiskar said these squads will also keep a check on those vendors having BMC's licences too. On Tuesday itself, surprise visits were conducted in and around the city".

Is it not a wonder that only very few cases of food borne diseases are reported in the country in spite of the sad state of affairs vis-a-vis safety enforcement environment? Could it be that the effect of daily prayers by the God-fearing population is manifested in the form of protection to them from food related disorders? Or does an average Indians possess an extra ordinary GI system that is immune to most food borne infectious vectors prevalent in the country? According to some reports most of those affected by minor symptoms of stomach upset caused by food do not bother about it, managing the same with over the counter anti-bacterial drugs available cheap in the country. One always wonders as to how populations in countries like the US or in Europe suffer from serious food poisoning incidences in spite of the operation of a supposedly modern food industry and most exacting hygiene environment that exists in those countries. Probably an agency like WHO can study this peculiar phenomenon to unravel the mystery!


Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Citizens world over are worried about over use of antibiotics in the production and processing of foods, especially animal products because of inherent fears regarding any potential resistance some of the disease causing pathogens may acquire. According to one estimate more than 80% of the antibiotics manufactured in the US is consumed by the meat industry, not for fighting infection in the animals but to make them grow faster and bigger! In contrast there are many synthetic chemicals legally permitted for use in food processing facilities for disinfection and sanitation. However continued use of same chemical or sanitizer in a facility may be counter productive in that there is the likelihood of some infecting microbes developing resistance to the use of this chemical and contaminating the products going through such facilities. Though the mechanism of developing resistance to sanitizers is different from antibiotic resistance, food industry still has to be weary about such developments in the interest of safety of products manufactured. A wide choice of chemical sanitizers makes it possible to rotate them periodically that will prevent build up of resistant organisms over a period.

"In food processing the question often arises regarding the need to rotate sanitizers on a regular basis to ensure continued efficacy. The concern is that extended use of a particular chemical sanitizer will select a resistant population thereby rendering the sanitization regime ineffective. Before addressing this question, there are some aspects of bacterial resistance to antimicrobials that need to be clarified. There are numerous antimicrobial compounds available for use both in vitro and in vivo. Antibiotics, disinfectants, preservatives and sanitizers are all considered antimicrobials, but their modes of action and likelihood of developing a resistant population are very different and sometimes confused. Resistance is a term that can be defined differently depending on the scientific forum in which it is used. It is important to note that use of the term resistance in many instances must be interpreted with some caution. Where antibiotics are used in the treatment of infection, resistance can be defined as a significant reduction in susceptibility resulting in a high likelihood of treatment failure. In terms of chemical sanitizers, resistance can be defined as the microorganism's ability to survive exposure to an antimicrobial compound regardless of concentration and contact time. Unlike antibiotics, an increase in minimum inhibitory concentration (MIC) of a sanitizing chemical does not necessarily correlate with treatment failure. Should the MIC for an antibiotic used against a particular microorganism increase, the consequences can be significant indicating possible therapeutic failure or the need for a different course of treatment. Where sanitizers are concerned, increased MICs are often misinterpreted as indicating development of resistance. In cases where a microorganism has adapted to survive at reduced antimicrobial concentrations or lesser contact times, the term tolerance is more appropriate".

"Microbial Resistance. Resistance can be innate, acquired or achieved by adaptation:

Innate or intrinsic resistance is related to the general physiology of the microorganism and stems from properties or mechanisms already present. For example, Bacillus sp. are intrinsically resistant to benzoates due to their ability to metabolize this compound. Acquired resistance results from genetic changes that occur due to mutation or through acquisition of extra-chromosomal genetic material such as plasmids. Acquired resistance has been studied extensively in relation to antibiotic use, but as yet, limited studies have been done with regard to chemical sanitizers. Resistance through adaptation occurs following a successive increase in antimicrobial exposure to sub-lethal concentrations. This type of resistance is often unstable and the microorganism can revert to a sensitive state if the antimicrobial is removed from the growth environment. Chemical sanitizers are effective against planktonic cells but cells within a biofilm have been shown to survive sanitizer exposure. Biofilms are aggregates of microorganisms that adhere to each other and produce a protective matrix consisting of polymeric substances such as exopolysaccharides. The ability of the biofilm matrix to exhibit increased tolerance to environmental stresses, such as sanitizer treatment, may be due to several factors. These include chemical interaction of sanitizer with the biofilm matrix, the production of degradative enzymes that breakdown the sanitizing chemical and physical separation of sanitizer from cell surfaces due to the protective effect of the polymeric matrix. In this instance, by definition, microbial cells have not developed resistance, but have created surroundings that enable cells to tolerate the hostile environmental conditions. Antibiotics are used to combat infections in humans and animals, whereas chemical sanitizers are used to control microbial contamination on hard surfaces. The mode of action of chemical sanitizers differs markedly from antibiotics. Antibiotics have specific target sites such as DNA or protein synthesis and can be species specific. Chemical sanitizers, however, have multiple target sites and affect multiple cellular components through physicochemical interaction and chemical reactions. When used at maximum permissible concentrations they act indiscriminately in a relatively short time frame, physically damaging the cell by destroying the cell wall and denaturing components such as proteins and nucleic acids essential for cell survival. Because chemical sanitizers attack a cell on multiple fronts, development of resistance to sanitizers through genetic mutation or modification is unlikely. Chemical sanitizer use in the U.S. food industry is regulated by the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act, and, by law, users must adhere to label instructions. Approved-use concentrations of hard-surface sanitizers are greater than the tolerable range for microbes normally encountered in food processing. With this in mind, no evidence exists that proper use of sanitizers in food processing will result in the development of a resistant microorganism population. All chemical sanitizers have advantages and disadvantages. Some may have better efficacy against bacteria than against yeasts and mold, whereas others may have greater tolerance to soil load. In instances where the microflora of a food processing line has shifted due to changing production conditions, sanitizer rotation may be advantageous. Therefore, rotating sanitizers in food production facilities is a worthwhile action when spectrum of microbial activity rather than development of resistant microorganism population is the primary concern".

Maintenance of food processing facilities is critical to limiting hazards from a multitude of vectors that include microbes also. With CIP technology being used widely in many automatic plants, more care is needed to flush out contaminating organisms that may be harbored in bends and crevices. As frequent testing of the inaccessible parts of the plant is not practical, use of more than one sanitizers through rotation based on a certain schedule may be desirable. Product recalls which are assuming alarming proportion are financially burdensome and a scientific sanitization policy can pre-empt such contingencies.


Tuesday, April 19, 2011


The slogan that "breast milk is the best milk" has to day become synonymous with bringing up healthy children and more or less almost all potential mothers are sensitized to this reality through countless campaigns, educational programs and investment of vast resources by national and international bodies. But there has always been danger from the powerful baby food industry to sabotage this situation in order to regain their lost business in terms of peddling manufactured infant foods with doubtful credentials. Now comes the frontal assault from this lobby with the help of some "motivated" scientists through a sustained campaign to promote a new product claiming it to be as good as the mother's milk, if not superior! Here is the story.

"The scientists have successfully introduced human genes into 300 dairy cows to produce milk with the same properties as human breast milk. Human milk contains high quantities of key nutrients that can help to boost the immune system of babies and reduce the risk of infections. The scientists behind the research believe milk from herds of genetically modified cows could provide an alternative to human breast milk and formula milk for babies, which is often criticised as being an inferior substitute. They hope genetically modified dairy products from herds of similar cows could be sold in supermarkets. The research has the backing of a major biotechnology company. The work is likely to inflame opposition to GM foods. Critics of the technology and animal welfare groups reacted angrily to the research, questioning the safety of milk from genetically modified animals and its effect on the cattle's health".

It is shocking that when GM foods are still at the center of a fierce controversy regarding their safety to adult humans, here is an attempt to expose the tender children to the potential hazards posed by GM milk. While no one has any quarrel regarding the excellence of GM technology and appreciation regarding human ingenuity in evolving these "unnatural" technologies, tinkering with food under various excuses, is not acceptable to any decent citizen who values all that is natural. There is only one country in the world which is reckless enough to expose its citizens to more than 30 different genetically manipulated agricultural crops with out the latter being aware of its presence in the market. With long term consequences from ingesting GM foods, especially as part of the staple diet, not exactly known, one can only wonder as to the intention of the US government in colluding with the GM lobby in the back door entry of these "unnatural" crops into the food system. While touting the new technology for producing human milk-like material from cows through GM techniques, the protagonists are forgetting that mother,s milk is much more than a chemical entity to be replicated through human intervention and the love, bondage, kinship, mother,s warmth etc can never be provided by any 4-legged animal, no matter how excellent the technology may be.



Food industry has come a long way during the last one century and to day consumer has the wherewithal to understand fully the history and characteristics of food being purchased from the market. Food industry has been forced to be more transparent about the products offered by them and the mandatory labeling regulations provide detailed information about the contents based on which consumer can buy the requirements with great discretion. Information such as calories, saturated fat, trans fat, dietary fiber, sugar etc tells a lot about the health value of a product, though such developments did not had much impact on the obesity epidemic that is ravaging the population in many wealthy countries. Another dimension to labeling is the need for letting the consumer know about the energy efficiency of a food product during its journey from farm to the fork. This is an issue which is becoming critical with each passing day with the fossil fuel crunch facing humanity assuming dangerous proportions due to their non-renewable nature. The DECAL system of labeling which is becoming popular in some countries may help food industry to educate the consumer regarding the energy input that has gone to make and deliver the product at the retail shelves.

"Americans use more oil than people in any other developed country, about twice as much per capita, on average, as Britons. Indeed, our appetite for petroleum, like our fondness of fast foods, has spawned a kind of obesity epidemic, but one without conspicuous symptoms like high blood pressure and diabetes. And because we don't see how much energy goes into the products and services we purchase, we're shielded from knowing the full extent of our personal energy demands — and unprepared when rising fuel prices increase the cost of everything else. This illusion stems, in part, from a measurement problem: while we expect and understand labels on our food products that quantify caloric, fat and nutrient content, we have no clear way of measuring the amount of energy it takes to make our products and propel our daily activities. There's no reason we can't have energy labels, too. For example, in Europe, Tesco, a supermarket chain, has begun a "carbon labeling" program for some 500 products, which displays the amount of energy consumed and greenhouse gases generated from their production, transportation and use. We could do the same thing here, with labels providing a product or service's "daily energy calories." Along with physical labels, imagine a smartphone app — we'll call it "Decal" for short — that would scan a product's bar code and report how much energy it took to produce that item. Like the nutritional data on the backs of food products, Decal would give consumers a user-friendly, universal measure that they could use to compare products or count their daily energy intake. For example, the app would enable an energy dieter to scan two otherwise identical loaves of bread and see which one required less energy to produce. Decal would have applications beyond the grocery-store shelf. By synchronizing with on board computers in cars, buses and trains, it could tell you how much energy you use during daily errands and commutes. It would sync to a smart energy meter in your home to evaluate how much power you're using and which appliances are the biggest guzzlers. And at the end of the day, the app would generate your total energy diet: a Decal "score" that would quantify how many total energy calories you've consumed. Once Decal took hold, the Department of Energy could recommend daily energy allowances, in the same way the Department of Agriculture recommends daily intakes of different nutrients. Experts could offer "diet" plans for energy-efficient lifestyles, and the Internal Revenue Service could offer tax rebates to families that achieve certain energy-calorie reductions".

Though conceptually it is a good idea, how far this will be effective at the field level remains to be seen. From the logistical point of view, adoption of DECAL by a few large companies may not make any impact because consumer will have no way to decide which products are better from energy expenditure angle when choices are limited. Added to this there is the issue of quality and how can the industry persuade the consumer to buy energy efficient products in preference to tastier ones which might have a higher DECAL value? If front of the pack labeling laws which have been in operation since last 2-3 decades did not persuade consumers to go for healthier foods as reflected by its lack of impact on the continuing obesity saga, will the DECAL score declaration help in moderating fossil fuel consumption? No one can be sure.


Saturday, April 16, 2011


That GM food industry will leave no stone unturned to promote their agenda of subjugating the farming communities, especially in the developing world is well established now, the latest example being the surreptitious proxy attempt to enter India through the GM Brinjal route. Of course this aborted attempt ended in a fiasco, as is known to every one following the devious designs of the GM food giants which want GM foods to predominate in the coming years. The perpetual dependence of farmers for seeds on these GM companies will ensure that these countries are faced with agricultural colonialism for decades to come. That a renowned public charity organization like Gates Foundation can become a partner for these neo colonists is a sad reflection on the current environment in the world. It is all the more reprehensible that the UK, one of the most virulent colonialists till a few decades ago, wants to revive its past glory, by becoming an active partner in this objectionable move.

With world food prices rising the Gates Foundation has announced $70 million to fund research into threats to food production in the developing world but are they funding the right projects? The Gates Foundation has formed a co-funding partnership with the United Kingdom's Department for International Development (DFID) and they will work together to identify and fund research and projects that help small farmers increase their yields and incomes. The UK's DFID will contribute $32 million over the next five years to the effort. In the joint Media Release the UK's International Development Minister, Andrew Mitchell, said: "For many of the poorest people in Africa and Southern Asia, the crops they grow not only provide most of their food but also an important source of income. It's these people who are hit hardest by food price spikes. Working with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, we can drive new ways to make direct improvements in people's lives, whether by making disease-resistant crops more widely available so that small-scale farmers can grow and sell more, or by developing crops with added nutritional benefits that will give their families a better diet."

GM foods are still mired in controversy and unless there is near unanimity regarding the safety of these crops a public organization like Gates Foundation should not have lent their financial and moral support to the venture under question. It is immoral to talk about small farmers and the GM technology in the same breath as they are totally incompatible with each other. Can any one support a move to surrender the conventional agricultural heritage of millions of farmers in Asia, Africa and South America to the new unknown technological powers that want to make them like the US where more than 30 crops are grown using GM seeds? Sustainable agriculture based on local expertise and simple techniques can only solve the problems of poor countries who are groaning under heavy debt burden and under-developed agricultural infrastructure.


Fast urbanization is a problem faced by practically every country and its snow balling effect on food security is well known. Imagine what will happen if all the rural folks migrate to cities looking for better earning opportunities as agriculture, especially in a country like India with very small individual holdings, is never a route for achieving a decent quality of life. In spite of massive subsidization of agriculture, farmer suicides continue unabated and there does not appear to be any consensus as to the right approach to tackle this grave human problem. While land consolidation is often talked about as the major pre-requisite for making cultivation remunerative, political philosophy often prevents such land reforms as vote bank pursuit seems to be more important than national development. Against this background the recent development in the West to make urban areas some what rural through encouragement of animal breeding is interesting.

"Two efforts are underway to more easily allow residents to keep chickens and goats in Denver, though the two movements could intersect with one another. The Mayor's Sustainable Food Policy Committee is reviewing one legislative effort that would allow residents to keep food-producing animals without a permit. The second effort is being led by a citizen who has proposed taking the issue to voters in November. It is possible that the legislative effort could be overshadowed by the ballot initiative proposed by James Bertini, a longtime advocate for food-producing animals and director of Denver Urban Homesteaders. If the initiative makes the November ballot and voters approve it, the legislative effort could be complicated. If the initiative makes the ballot and is rejected by voters, City Council members may be less likely to approve the legislative proposal.Bertini says if the city acts quickly and approves a streamlined, less onerous process for allowing food-producing animals in Denver, then he would abandon his effort".

It was Prof Abdul Kalam who first propounded the philosophy that rural areas must be "urbanized", providing some of the comforts of city living though how far such a concept can be translated into reality is some thing to be seen. The move to allow urban households to have their own meat animals is fraught with lot of implications. How can the neighborhood tolerate a few house having their chicken, goats etc disturbing their peace and damaging their properties? What about the stench emanating from such households having some animals? How are these animals going to be slaughtered? Probably in course of time some clarity may emerge on these issues. Phenomena like urban farming, sky gardens, roof top gardens etc are invariably based on passion and commitment by a few and how far the interest can be sustained remains to be seen.


Wednesday, April 13, 2011


The Food Truck phenomenon is growing much beyond the expectation of the pioneers who started this new system of food preparation and vending in the United States more than a decade ago. It is not that similar food catering practices were not existing before any where else in the world but the Food Truck vending is a modernized version with large flexibility to move around in urban areas, deploying even the latest tweeter technology to inform their customers abut their where abouts. Even to day in many developing countries road side food vending is very common but generally it is frowned upon because of lack of hygiene and sanitation. The modern Food Truck with its ultra modern kitchen facilities ensures safety of food preparations offered by them, even better than many of the regular established restaurants. The recent launching of a unique Food Revolution Truck in the US by a public minded person has brought out the possibility of mobile training facilities on wheels which can be used to make the families and interested consumers aware of the nuances of preparation of healthy foods. Here is a take on this development

"Jamie Oliver, who we last saw calling Sarah Palin a 'Froot Loop', is back with the mobilization of his Food Revolution -- literally. This week Oliver unveiled his Food Revolution food truck, a mobile kitchen designed to educate young people and their families about the preparation and perpetuation of affordable, healthy food. The truck can fit a class of 40 students and features a bevy of kitchen equipment, complete with eight kitchen stations, plasma screens for demonstrations, and an inflatable stage. The Food Revolution Truck was brought to life by contributions and partnerships enabled by Oliver's TED prize, awarded in 2010. Along with $100,000, Oliver was given the chance to realize his wish to change the world. His mission? In a tour of the truck with the BBC, Oliver explains his desire to 'create a sustainable movement to feed children better in schools and to educate them about food.' The truck, designed pro bono by architect David Rockwell, is intended to "create an immediate, unexpected spectacle' at schools, fairs, and farmer's markets."

While creation of such facilities can be achieved easily through grants from government and non-government organizations, most difficult logistical problem is how to ensure their regular functioning with adequate working capital funds. Years ago GOI had mobile canning demonstration vans in some states in India for training house wives in preserving seasonal perishables like fruits and vegetables by canning but the project was abandoned later because of lack of adequate response from the targeted groups. Probably in India there may be a need for such mobile training facilities in each state that can go to areas where street vendors are concentrated and cajole the vendors to undergo a minimum training to sensitize them on safety of foods cooked by them. It is for the MFPI to take the necessary initiative to create such facilities which may have much greater impact than the sporadic attempts to help these hapless road side entrepreneurs through impractical and useless programs.


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Like organic foods, local food movements in some of the western countries have gained acceptance by a significant segment of the consumer because of the perceived feeling that they are safer, more nutritious and environment friendly. While organic foods got really established across the world with their own standards, quality vigilance and international protocols, local foods can be confirmed only by tracing the sources from where they have come. Most of the big retail food chains are the losers because local foods made available in the farmers' markets are much more in demand than the products offered by the former which are sourced from hundreds of kilometers away with practically nothing known about their credentials. Of course with traceability law in place consumer has a much better chance of knowing the history of the produce bought from a retail chain. If a recent report from the UK is to be believed one in three dealers offering local foods are of suspect credentials and here is a take on that situation.

"Council food enforcement officers visited over 300 premises across England and Wales because of the increasing consumer interest in buying `local'. They visited both point of sale and manufacturing facilities. In total, 558 products (65 per cent from restaurants, 23 per cent from retail shops and 12 per cent from manufacturers and other) labelled as `local' were investigated. Full inspections revealed that at least 18 per cent of the claims were undoubtedly false with a further 14 per cent unable to be confirmed and therefore assumed false. These false claims were found at similar levels across all food sectors with almost one in five restaurant descriptions misleading customers. Meat and dairy products were frequently misleading with 50 per cent of poultry, 29 per cent of sausages, 27 per cent of both beef and lamb and 24 per cent of dairy products all completely false. Chairman of Local Government Regulation councillor Paul Bettison said: "To have around a third of all items investigated turn out to be false or potentially false is extremely worrying. "At present there is no widely agreed definition of the term `local' and it isn't acceptable. Everyone should be operating in a fair environment and following the same rules. Defra and the food industry must agree the definition of `local'."

According to one report even some of the retail chains in the US are resorting to malpractices, setting up local food section in their premises but stocked with materials sourced through their regular supply chain which amounts to cheating the consumer. As there are no established methodology to distinguish between local and those sourced from distant places, sufficient scope exists for fraudulent operators to make a fast buck through this easy route. Until clear cut guidelines are established for defining any food as local, consumer is left at the mercy of the dealers in providing local foods, many of them unable to resist the opportunity to cheat the unsuspecting consumer. A rigorous vigilance system must be in place for bringing to books such fraudsters which may provide the necessary deterrent.