Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The latest controversy centering around Ammonia treated Beef in the US offers a lesson to all involved in food processing and marketing. While lot has been written and spoken about food safety, a phenomenon just emerging indicates that consumer does not consider the safety standards by the government as gospel truth. While use of Ammonia to "disinfect" meat products to achieve freedom from pathogens like virulent E.coli, Salmonella etc is a perfectly legal practice, consumer does not seem to think so as reflected by the increasing reluctance on the part of major industry players to use these materials in their finished products. It was not so long ago that same thing happened with BPA containing plastics and their use by the industry though BPA has not yet been found to be harmful. These instances go to show that consumer is really the king when it comes to "disciplining" the food industry! Here is a report on the issue concerning progressive unpopularity of Ammoniated Beef in the US.  

"If you don't want bacteria in your food you have to treat it," he added. "This is a good ingredient and a very effective intervention. It's almost like some thing's been taken out of the arsenal that shouldn't have. And as a food safety guy, that bothers me." As many in the meat industry have pointed out, ammonium hydroxide is only one of many processing aids or "safe and sustainable ingredients" approved by the government's Food Safety and Inspection Service to reduce and eliminate pathogens on raw meat products. FSIS has a 52-page list of approved chemicals companies can use to treat raw meat, poultry, and egg products -- many of them can be used without any labeling on the package because they are technically considered a process and not an ingredient. "If consumers and restaurants are up in arms about the use of ammonia and can potentially drive a company out of business by their actions, I can only wonder what they are going to do when they look at the other chemicals in use to try and protect us from foodborne illnesses, chemicals like liquid chlorine and lactic acid just to name a couple," said Raymond. "There are just certain unpleasant realities of how meat is processed in this country. Those of us with farm backgrounds maybe can accept them a little more readily than someone who has led a life sheltered from these realities." The tension between widely used food safety interventions and concern about chemicals in food will surely continue. Recent polling, sponsored by the food industry, suggests consumer confidence in food safety is slipping. At the same time, surveys reveal consumers consistently list chemical and pesticide use in food production as a top concern. "All new food safety technologies must get through the ultimate filter - and that is consumer acceptance," notes Caroline Smith DeWaal, food safety director at the Center for Science in the Public Interest. "Just like irradiation, a potentially life-saving technology to kill pathogens in meat can still face rejection by consumers, who are anxious to provide the best food for their families. The rise in demand for organic and local foods shows that consumers often go outside pure safety considerations to evaluating where and how the food was produced."

Another perplexing question that will haunt the industry is what is the next process aid that is going to be ostracized by the consumer based on information and perceptions that need not necessarily be true. One must recall the fate of gamma irradiation process which was safety cleared globally long ago but the technology is still languishing for want of takers among the industry because of a strong perception that consumer would not patronize irradiated food products due to its perceived association with radioactivity! At a time when more and more people are moving towards organic foods, the addition or deployment of chemicals during the processing stage will turn away consumers genuinely concerned about their health as well as that of their families. The powerful lobby of activists campaigning against food additives and process aids will have a profound effect on the psyche of the consumer which does not bode well for the industry and it has to see the writing on the wall and prepare for massive changes in the present processing practices to satisfy their restive constituency in the coming years.


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