Monday, November 28, 2011


Presence of pathogenic bacteria in food can be scary for the consumers, especially if the food is to be consumed without heating. But can such a presence be condoned because the quantum of bacteria present is too small to be dangerous to the consumers. Even the old canning technology which uses high temperatures for processing does not claim absolute sterility and they are supposed to be only commercially sterile, meaning this is unlikely to cause any risk to the consumers. However those who consume canned foods invariably heat the product for fear of Clostridium bottulinum poisoning which will take care of other bacteria also. The recent uproar in China, a country notorious for the series of food scandals involving adulteration by the industry, regarding the new law proposed for legally allowing presence of "small" levels of Staphylococcus bacteria in some frozen foods, seems to be putting focus again on the food safety issue with renewed vigor! Here is a take on this issue which needs clarity to assuage the fears of millions of consumers in that country.

"China's state-run media and web users criticised the government after it ruled that small amounts of a potentially lethal bacterium were permissible in frozen food. The health ministry ruling followed a series of recalls of products, including dumplings made by Synear Food -- one of China's largest frozen food producers -- because they contained traces of staphylococcus aureus bacterium. The bacterium, also known as golden staph, can cause a range of mild to severe infections and diseases, including life-threatening pneumonia and meningitis. Under the existing rules, food products must be recalled if any of the bacteria are discovered. But new rules announced Thursday will allow a small amount of staphylococcus aureus in frozen rice or dough products. A commentary in the People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece, on Friday urged authorities to "address public anxiety" after the revision, which follows a series of food safety scandals in China. "Authorities cannot attempt to fudge public concerns over food safety," said the article, written by Jiang Yun. "In order to rebuild the credibility of food safety standards, they should... consider whether the making of the standards is open and transparent." Chinese Internet users went further, accusing authorities of deliberately lowering food safety standards to pander to big business".

Technologically if the products are going to be heated probably there might not be any danger and the new rule permits presence of bacteria in frozen rice and dough products which are any how processed further by the consumers in their kitchen. Therefore it is doubtful whether these products can be considered dangerous. Probably before arriving at a decision to modify the existing provisions in the statute books, Chinese authorities must have evaluated the cause and consequences of such practices which is obviously an action supporting the industry. Retrospectively Chines authorities need not have lowered the bar for the industry at this juncture when internationally there are grave reservation regarding the safety of Chines foods in general.


No comments: