Sunday, March 11, 2012


The world is divided between the so called "naturalists" who hate processed foods and those who tolerate them. Lately the food industry antagonists are raising their pitch after many serious food poisoning episodes in the West and calling the industry names. So vitriolic are some of the comments that a group even wants food industry to be bracketed with Tobacco industry! On the contrary many common people realize the inevitability of processing, at least for extending the life of perishable foods, so that their availability through out the year is not seriously constrained. Armed personnel working for the country in remote border areas under severe hostile conditions depend heavily on preserved foods as the logistics of delivering fresh foods there is almost nightmarish and cost prohibitive. It goes to the credit of Defense Research and Development Organization to foresee these needs and set up a dedicated R & D Laboratory exclusively to devote attention to the food needs of the Defense Forces. Recent news that this specialized organization is going full steam to translate a number of processes developed by its scientists into commercial operations with the help of some women empowered groups is most welcome. A good initiative indeed! Here is a take on this interesting development.

"Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), BASIX, a social enterprise group, and Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), have collaborated to launch Aahar - a pilot project comprising a range of ready-to-eat products. The project was launched in New Delhi on Tuesday by planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. The collaboration focusses on food technologies developed by the Mysore-based Defence Food Research Laboratory (DFRL), part of DRDO. The objective of the project is to build women-oriented enterprises using food technologies of DFRL. Aahar is the first pilot project that covers a set of technologies and products including ready-to-eat roti, and two variants in dal which are instant palak dal and masala channa curry mix. While a pack of two rotis is priced at Rs 15, a packet of dal will cost Rs 20. 
Aahar is a hygienic, nutritious and convenient meal that tastes fresh with longer shelf life, and is quick to serve. While the roti has a shelf life of 15 days, the two variants of dal have a shelf life of 12 months under ambient conditions, according to Dr A S Bawa, director, DFRL. Rotis are highly perishable and spoil within 24-36 hours depending upon storage conditions due to microbial spoilage. With DFRL technology, the shelf life has been extended to over 12 months to help retain nutrition and taste. For the instant dal and chana mix, cold shock dehydration technology has been patented by DFRL to make a variety of tasty convenience mixes which can be reconstituted within 6-8 minutes. "The products are suitable for long journeys, nutritional feeding, catering programmes and other similar civilian applications," he added.  

It is aptly said that "the proof of the pudding is in its eating" and these initiatives have some meaning if the armed forces unreservedly accept these preserved foods with "long life" for daily consumption. Such an apprehension is justified in the light of past experience in developing specially "processed foods" for these "special consumers". It was long ago that DRDO imported a freeze drying plant using most modern technology of the time to process meat for captive use of the armed forces at Tundla near Agra and the project was a spectacular failure because of the resistance of the army personnel to accept the product due to textural deficiencies. The 15 day preserved roti mentioned in the report may have some problem of acceptance because of the susceptibility of this product to retro-gradation and consequent textural deficiency. As for dal preparations and curries there should not be any problem since retort pouch technology developed by this laboratory long back has already established itself as useful and dependable. Without prejudging the outcome of the trials, one should wish the endeavor success.


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