Friday, August 31, 2012


Food packaging is mainly intended to containerize the contents for convenience of use but over the years the packaging media have become highly functional also performing such useful tasks like preservation, protection, insurance against post processing infection, immunity to oxidation etc. From the simple materials like leaves, some parts of plants and man made papers used traditionally, packaging industry has come a long way and to day it offers a fantastic range of synthetic materials with phenomenal functional versatility. High strength, pliability, transparency, efficient sealing properties, heat durability, easy opening designs, recycling ability etc are hall marks of most packaging materials available to day. Tetrapack technology, aseptic packaging mode, bag-in-the box designs, MAP. CAP, zip lock versions etc are to day very commonly deployed for food packing. After the advent of Microwave heating and cooking technology, need for new types of packaging materials and designs that can with stand the high temperature and internal pressure generated without imparting any taint or leach out dangerous chemicals, has emerged and here is one of the recent developments in this field as being reported about new packing modes that can withstand both freezing as well as cooking temperatures.  

"Cook Chill bags are constructed from multi-layer films designed to protect foods from oxygen and moisture while preserving taste, texture and aroma. Foods made with the Cook Chill process can be stored refrigerated for up to 45 days, then reheated just before serving. The foods can be frozen for up to a year. The strong, ergonomic handle on Plascon's Cook Chill Handle Bags allows the end user to safely handle and transport filled bags even when the contents are hot. The handle can also be used to safely remove bags from hot water during the retherming process. Cook Chill Handle Bags incorporate an angled bottom seal, which maximizes yield of the product when the bag is emptied by eliminating corners where food can be trapped. After filling, Plascon Cook Chill Handle Bags can be clipped or sealed depending on the end user's preference. Cook Chill Bags on a Roll were developed to make the storage and dispensing of Cook Chill bags more convenient and to keep corrugated packaging out of commercial kitchens. Health departments in many areas prohibit corrugated in the kitchen due to contamination concerns. Cook Chill Bags on a Roll are wound on a plastic core and are as easy to dispense as paper towels. They can be used in conjunction with Plascon's Stainless Steel Bag Dispenser that can be used on a counter or mounted horizontally or vertically on a wall to keep bags close to workstations while protecting them from spills and splashes. Bags on a Roll are available in 10" and 12" widths and are packaged 100 bags to a roll and 4 rolls to a case. Each roll is individually wrapped. "These new bag configurations give our customers options that allow them to choose the bag that best fits their application," said David Peterson, CEO of Plascon Group. "We continue to use Cryovac films, the highest quality film that was developed specifically for the Cook Chill Process, which has outstanding seal integrity and the strength and durability to withstand the rigors of processing, handling and transportation."

One of the dangers in microwave heating is that if sealed or closed packs are heated without opening and transferring to open and compatible containers before heating, there is the likelihood of the closed pack bursting with risk of injury to the user. It is usually recommended that contents from a sealed pack must be either opened or transferred to microwavable containers before heating. The new development is highly consumer oriented with convenience in mind and can be cooked directly in hot water or microwave oven with no inherent risk of bursting. Imagine the comfort level of a house wife if unopened bags or packs from a frig or freezer can be taken straight for heating or cooking in hot water or microwave oven just before consumption. Packaging industry which has made tremendous advances, especially during the last two decades can be depended upon to come out with such game changing products with enhanced safety and convenience for the consumers, if the food processing industry continues to grow at the present pace in the coming years.


Saturday, August 25, 2012


One of the serious problems being faced by towns and cities world over is to make the living environment clean, safe and livable for their citizens by efficient collection and disposal of household waste. This does not mean that the individual citizen has no role to play in this task as most of the refuse comes from thousands of households and the problem of disposal of waste can be considerably reduced by minimizing the quantity of garbage generated for the civic body to handle. The urban refuse can have both organic materials which are biodegradable and recyclable materials having some economic value. While most organic waste can be composted in-house, recyclable materials are to be collected for bulking before delivery to the processing centers. Segregation of waste into biodegradable and recyclable is a prerequisite for efficient removal of unsafe and unhygienic liter from the vicinity of living areas within a town or a city. Many big cities do have working systems to collect the garbage and the portion not recyclable is used for land fill but involvement of the citizens is not as much as one would like to have. It is here that the innovative program of one of the urban entities in Brazil is breath taking in its concept and practice. As an incentive families are offered fresh vegetables for trading in garbage, the program serving the dual purpose of improving the health of the citizens as well as improving the environment of the city! Here are more details about this exciting story worthy of emulation by every town and city in this world.   

"In many urban centers throughout the world, vibrant waste recycling programs aren't just eco-minded niceties, they serve an essential role in keeping communities clean and clutter-free. But thanks to one forward-thinking initiative in the Brazilian city of Jundiaí, trading in trash has never been tastier. Ten years ago, the city's Municipal Utilities department launched "Delicious Recycling", a program aimed at encouraging residents to get into the habit of collecting recyclable waste in exchange for fresh vegetables, grown locally in a public-run garden -- and boy did it take off. Today, the garden boasts more than 30 thousand plants to meet the demand of thousands of veggie-loving recyclers, turning aluminum cans and plastic bottles into edible greens. Ultimately, the program has done wonders for the health of the environment as well, by ridding the city of improperly disposed waste. "What once cluttered and even choked the flow of water from storm drains is today used as currency for healthy food," local mayor Miguel Haddad tellsJundiaí Online. "Everybody wins with this."

Taking the case of India, it is beyond the comprehension of many right thinking people as to why such simple schemes cannot be thought of with thousands of acres of cultivable land owned by the civic bodies available for raising vegetable gardens. These are the days when urban dwellers are clamoring for good quality fruits and vegetables at affordable price, preferably grown locally without using too much of fertilizers and pesticides and there are reports that in many cities in countries like the US, Canada etc, urban gardens are being raised on roof tops, abandoned sites, city lands, balconies etc by the urban families to get their daily needs of vegetables. There are even suggestions that instead of landscaping, people must go for foodscaping where lawns are replaced with food plants capable of yielding a variety of vegetables without disturbing the image of the house. Involving the civic bodies in programs similar to the one reported from Brazil can go a long way in cleaning up the dirty environment which is a feature of to day's urban settlements in India. Such schemes must be encouraged through the much touted JNURM program or the job guarantee schemes of Government of India.  


Friday, August 24, 2012


Yogurt is a product universally liked and many variations of yogurt have established a niche market in western countries. Traditionally curd, made and consumed in India for centuries is a culinary item served during meals in the southern part of India for mixing with rice as a last course of a meal. In contrast people in northern parts of the country consume curd after beating with sugar or salt, called Lassi as a refreshing beverage. Some times Lassi is flavored with aromatic essences for making it more tasty. The salted version of Lassi has the advantages of a reduced calorie count. Blends of fruit pieces or pulps preserved for a few days through modern technology are very popular among kids in the West and this approach is considered a desirable one to attract children to these products, claimed to be rich in pro and pre biotics with many health attributes. Frozen yogurt is another version that is widely accepted as a dessert in place of ice cream products which are increasingly being shunned due to high sugar and fat contents. If recent reports regarding the development of a carbonated Lassi are true, another hitherto untried version of this product may be available one day to the consumers. Here are some details about such a product reported from a famed dairy research organization in India.

It's a perfect healthy carbonated drink for those who want to avoid heavy calories and sugar," Tomar said.After four years of intense research, scientists at the National Dairy Research Institute ( NDRI) in Haryana have discovered a bacteria stain, Leuconostoc Ln 27, which will be used to manufacture carbonated sweet lassi, just like the soft drinks. "Efforts are on to get the process of preparation of the beverage patented, since patent of organisms is not allowed in India," Sudhir Tomar, senior scientist at the Dairy Microbiology Division, NDRI, told Deccan Herald on Tuesday. "The sweetened carbonated Lassi will be 35 per cent less in calories and 65 per cent low in sugar and sans any artificial sweetener," he added. "The bacteria is unique in its phenomenal ability to release a very high level of natural sweetener, mannitol, when it reacts with sugar in curd. It turns the sweet mixture into a very high value mannitol that preserves the sweetness and is low in sugar content as well. Carbon dioxide is naturally released during the process, which adds fizz," Tomar said. The process took nearly four years, during which nearly 200 plant and animal samples were examined. The research team comprised Falguni Patra, A K Singh and Rameshwar Singh. The NDRI plans to sell the patented technology to a company interested in manufacturing the lassi in the country.  Officials at the NDRI said the carbonated lassi would be pitched as a substitute for soft drinks and is likely to appeal to children and teenagers

Drinks like Doogh, Ayran, Labban etc popular in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkey and other countries are also basically curd preparations with minor variations in composition and preparation mode. Basically Lactic acid bacteria belonging to several species have the capacity to convert Lactose present in the milk to lactic acid and the final texture and taste are influenced by the make up of the seeding culture used for fermentation. Casein and other proteins present in milk naturally get precipitated as the acidity develops. The carbonated Lassi, the new product developed in India apparently used a Leuconostoc strain isolated from indigenous sources and its uniqueness lies in generating sweet Mannitol imparting natural sweetness, avoiding too much loading with sucrose as done during preparation of traditional Lassi products. Another unusual feature is that the product has in situ generated CO2 in stead of the high pressure carbonation method used by the fizz drink industry. How far the product can be called carbonated is not sure because traditional CO2 infusion creates pressure as high as four atmosphere. Probably this product is more akin to Champagne though it is not clear regarding the CO2 pressure developed. It will be interesting to see the organoleptic experience of drinking a carbonated product with such high levels of suspended solids and that it self is exciting!  

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Consumption of alcoholic beverages in moderate quantities is credited with many benefits including protection of heart. But above all people enjoy taking alcoholic beverages for their stimulant properties. Red wine from grapes is supposed to be rich in antioxidants that keep the inflammation down and help avoiding some forms of cancers. Resveratrol, present in red wine is reported to be helpful in retarding the aging phenomenon. While rating alcoholic drinks wine and bear are considered mild while others like whiskey, brandy, rum, vodka etc are stronger ones with high alcoholic content. France and Italy dominate the wine production industry world wide, controlling almost 40% of the world production. The per capita annual consumption of wine is highest in France, estimated at 8 liters and France provides some of the best wines in the world. Recent reports that ranchers in France are experimenting with cows to see the effect of wine on the quality of beef produced provide an interesting insight into the abundance and predominance of wine industry in that country.

Japan's Kobe cows were the "original tipplers, known to indulge in the occasional frothy beer to stimulate their appetites. Some southern Japanese farmers even used booze as a superficial primer, dabbing their cows' hides with sake to improve the skin's appearance and softness. But now the boozed-up bovines have a new challenger — from the French, thanks to a winemaker in the south of the country who wondered what a few glasses of wine each day would do for the quality of beef from local farmers. Languedoc-Roussillon winemaker Jean-Charles Tastavy decided to experiment after learning of studies in Spain and Canada that highlighted the merits of keeping animals happy to yield better meat, the Agence France-Presse reports. Tastavy partnered with farmer Claude Chaballier, who had a surplus of cows on which they could test the wine theory. Starting in 2011 after the fall grape harvest, three cows were fed the pomace, essentially the remainders of pressed grapes, washed down with water. Then they chose to feed the cows the real deal: locally produced wine from St.-Geniès des Mourgues. "The cows appreciated the menu and ate with enjoyment," Tastavy said.

Wine production is seeing a decline in recent years and probably diverting a part of the production to the beef industry may be logical. Though it is claimed that the quality of meat produced by cows fed with two bottles of wine a day is significantly superior, there is no universal agreement on this issue. It is true that alcohol, being a depressant, can be expected to reduce the physical activity of the cows and the metabolic activities, especially in the liver can be some what different after feeding the animal with wine. Consumption of wine, about two servings of 25-35 ml every day is considered beneficial in humans and therefore feeding of about 1.5 liters of wine may have same effect in cows also. What is not clear is whether wine has been fed before the main feeding or after wards because alcohol absorption is slower if alcohol is administered after the main feeding and blood alcohol is metabolized faster. Whatever it is, the fact that beef from wine fed cows is commanding a premium price and several renowned chefs are vouchsafing for the better meat quality, the practice of wine feeding may become popular.  


Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Cocoa beans contain very high levels of antioxidants and products derived from this healthy beans are touted as health foods by the industry. However its rich fat content, especially the saturated ones and incorporation of large quantities of sugar make chocolates a prime suspect as a villain against mankind by fomenting many disorders that afflict modern society. It is only during the last few years the chocolate industry has taken pains to reduce at least sugar and increase the cocoa solids, mostly garden dark chocolates or bitter chocolates. However reducing fat is still a challenge because the texture and the typical biting characteristics depend heavily on the fat content. At least that is what has been understood till recently. However this perception is likely to change after the recent discovery that fat in chocolate can be reduced up to 50% by suitable modification of the process and incorporation of fruit juices. Here is a take on this new exciting development.

"We all love chocolate but many of us try to avoid it in the fear of gaining weight. Now, scientists have found a way to replace up to 50 per cent of fat content in chocolate with fruit juice. University of Warwick chemists have taken out much of the cocoa butter and milk fats that go into chocolate bars, substituting them with tiny droplets of juice measuring under 30 microns in diameter. They infused orange and cranberry juice into milk, dark and white chocolate using what is known as a Pickering emulsion. Significantly, the clever chemistry does not take away the chocolatey 'mouth-feel' given by the fatty ingredients. This is because the new technique maintains the prized Polymorph V content, the substance in the crystal structure of the fat which gives chocolate its glossy appearance, firm and snappy texture but which also allows it to melt smoothly in the mouth. The final product will taste fruity – but there is the option to use water and a small amount of ascorbic acid (vitamin C) instead of juice to maintain a chocolatey taste. Study's lead author Dr Stefan Bon from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Warwick said the research looked at the chemistry behind reducing fat in chocolate, but now it was up to the food industry to use this new technique to develop tasty ways to use it in chocolate. "Everyone loves chocolate – but unfortunately we all know that many chocolate bars are high in fat. However it's the fat that gives chocolate all the indulgent sensations that people crave – the silky smooth texture and the way it melts in the mouth but still has a 'snap' to it when you break it with your hand," Dr Bon said. "We've found a way to maintain all of those things that make chocolate 'chocolatey' but with fruit juice instead of fat. "Our study is just the starting point to healthier chocolate – we've established the chemistry behind this new technique but now we're hoping the food industry will take our method to make tasty, lower-fat chocolate bars," he added. The scientists used food-approved ingredients to create a pickering emulsion, which prevents the small droplets from merging with each other".

If the above findings get translated into commercial products in the market, the future of chocolate industry is expected to be bright in the coming years. Interestingly fruit natural juices will sweeten the product to some extent sparing that much added sugar. Sensibly the cocoa powder, a by-product of chocolate industry containing only about 6-10% fat is a much superior health ingredient that can be used in many traditional sweetmeat preparations that can lend rich color and flavor liked universally. Still chocolate has a distinct place of its own in the choice of foods by young as well the old. The attempts like the above one in reducing fat significantly in chocolate products  are indeed welcome.



"Small is beautiful" is a famous saying that set the policies of many countries in promoting small and micro enterprises during the last millennium. But the world seems to have turned on its head with the emergence of "oligopoly" that controls the food market in countries like the US. The Americans boast that theirs is a country with unlimited choices of foods to the consumers who can pick and choose from over 50000 products offered in big and well organized super market outlets, may be literally true but a close critical look will reveal that these products are made by a few players with deep pockets and political power to sabotage any well meaning policies considered good for the consumers. The very fact that more than two thirds of the 300 plus million population in the US are either obese or overweight tells its own story regarding the track record of these handful of giant transnational companies. Fast disappearing breed of small and family farmers because of the onslaught of powerful corporate players further limits the choice of the consumer who is forced to "eat" what is offered and not necessarily what is good for him. Here is a critical commentary on this disturbing trend which is spreading across the world with unabashed capitalism spreading its wings.   

"Just five companies account for almost half of supermarket food sales in the United States. And what about the food those companies offer us? Let's take meat. A meal is not a proper meal without it, at least for 97 out of 100 Americans. Just four companies provide us with 79 percent of our beef, 65 percent of our pork, and 57 percent of our poultry. So, no matter what kind of meat we have for dinner, most likely it comes from the same handful of companies: Tyson,JBS, Cargill, Smithfield. You can never decide which bacon to bring home? Armour, Eckrich, Farmland, Gwaltney, John Morrell, Smithfield – all owned by Smithfield. So, market power is consolidated in the hands of a few multinational corporations. What does this mean for the food we eat and the people who produce it? They explain: Control of our food supply has been wrenched from independent farmers and ranchers in the corporate boardrooms of agribusiness giants. Since 1980, four out of 10 farmers who raise cattle and nine out of 10 who raise hogs have gone out of business.Under this Darwinian survival of the fittest model, control of most production is now in the hands of large corporations. But farmers still raise cows, and pigs, and chickens, right? Yes they do, say the professors, who recently also co-authored Slaughterhouse Blues: The Meat and Poultry Industry of North America, but "most of them don't really own the animals they raise. Virtually all the chickens sold in the United States are grown under production contracts to a handful of companies, who own the birds from egg to supermarket."

It has to be conceded that any investor pumping in money for taking up a manufacturing venture must be assured of a decent return on his capital but this has to happen under an environment where equity is the hall mark with every one, small and big getting equal opportunity. This is not what is actually happening as those with big money invariably buy out the smaller fish with highly tempting terms. Which small investor can resist the temptation of selling his venture if prices offered are 50-150% of the real value? While main stream food production and processing industry has been monopolized by a few giants, it is apprehended that organic food industry, evolved to escape from the risks inherent in most products offered by the modern processing sector, will also be eventually assimilated by the latter through economic aggression. Developing countries must shun such a model and put in place constructive policies and frame works to nurture small enterprises and ensure protection from the marauding poachers. Those countries clamoring for foreign investments in food processing and retailing with open arms, must guard against the transformation of their food sector into the ugly food scenario that predominates in the US where the powerful industry lobby is dictating terms to the government regarding what is good for the citizen!


Monday, August 20, 2012


"Taking out thorn with thorn" is an old saying meaning that any treatment to succeed, its intensity has to be equally as strong as the cause of the ailment. This is an approach increasingly becoming a feasible proposition in treating some infections caused by pathogens in humans. Recent reports suggesting that one of the Lactobacillus species viz L.reuteri can be an effective antidote to neutralize the pathogens are encouraging and already there are many patents on the proprietary ownership of some of the strains foreseeing the commercial potential of these findings. L.reuteri is an ubiquitous microorganism residing in the guts of mammals and birds and it was only in 1980s its full identification was made. It is a major component of gut microorganisms and occur practically every where including milk and meat products. However in some persons these microbes were not found, reasons for which are not well understood. It is thanks to L reuteri that most human beings are able to shake off most of the minor gastrointestinal infections encountered in day to day life. More importantly L.reuteri can inhibit the growth of one of the scourges of modern food industry, Salmonella which is causing hundreds of food poisoning episodes world-wide. The antibiotic effect of this beneficial bug has been attributed to excretion of chemicals like 3-hydroxypropionaldehyde, its hydrate and the dimer, collectively called Reuterin.     

"Their results demonstrated that this beneficial or probiotic organism, which produces an antimicrobial substance known as reuterin, may protect intestinal epithelial cells from infection by the foodborne bacterial pathogen Salmonella. Cheryl Nickerson and her group at ASU's Biodesign Institute, in collaboration with an international team including Tom Van de Wiele and lead author Rosemarie De Weirdt at Ghent University, Belgium, conducted the study. It examines for the first time the effect of reuterin during the infection process of mammalian intestinal cells and suggests the efficacy of using probiotic bacteria or their derivatives in future therapies aimed at thwarting Salmonella infection. Intestinal infections by non-typhoidal Salmonella strains induce diarrhea and gastroenteritis, and remain a leading source of foodborne illness worldwide. Such infections are acutely unpleasant but self-limiting in healthy individuals. For those with compromised immunity however, they can be deadly and the alarming incidence of multi-drug resistant Salmonella strains has underlined the necessity of more effective therapeutics. The use of benign microorganisms offers a promising new approach to treating infection from pathogens like Salmonella and indeed, L. reuteri has been shown to help protect against gastrointestinal infection and reduce diarrhea in children. The origin of L. reuteri's protective role still remains unclear. While it has been speculated that reuterin acts by regulating immune responses or competing with Salmonella for key binding sites, the current study represents the first in vitro examination of host-pathogen interactions using human intestinal epithelium in the presence of reuterin-producing L reuteri."

The early stage immunity in newly born babies was thought to be due to presence of Lactobacillus bifidi present in breast milk but after the discovery of L.reuteri, there is a new thinking that this organism also must be contributing to the health of the baby. However one peculiar feature of production of Reuterin is that glycerol is a precursor from which the antibiotic brew is produced. Of course glycerol is a component of Tri Carboxylic Acid (TCA) cycle or Krebs cycle involved in energy metabolism in humans and therefore L.reuteri can always produce the antibiotic in the gut region to the extent required to counteract the undesirable action of unfriendly microorganisms. Another interesting benefit of L.reuteri is that it can effectively protect teeth from the decays caused by Streptococcus mutans, found in the oral cavity of many people. Therapeutic preparations of L.reuteri are now available for rehabilitating the heath of gut microbiome as well as to ensure good dental health. Sensing the business potential offered by this unique bug there are yogurt products being offered in the market fortified with L.reuteri, though no one is sure how far such products are superior to normally made yogurts.


Sunday, August 19, 2012


There are scary stories floating around regarding the dangers posed by Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) that is being promoted as a "green" alternative to the traditional incandescent bulbs with the added advantage of energy savings. In fact there are conscious attempts in many countries to weed out incandescent bulbs through various incentives and in spite of the high cost of CFL bulbs, about 3-4 times higher than that of the old bulbs, people are increasingly adopting them for saving on power cost, claimed to be to the extent of 75%. The startling news based on some research findings that implicates radiation from CFL in possible development of cancer must not be allowed to turn the clock back on CFL promotion. Unless there is absolute proof that CFL can be dangerous to the health of people such half backed research findings should not be disseminated to create unnecessary alarm among the people. Here is a commentary on this latest expose.  

"New research out of Stony Brook University though raises some concerns about their impact on our skin—it seems CFLs emit ultraviolet radiation that damages human skin cells. So, while CFLs are certainly the green choice, users should take some precautions, says Dr. Miriam Rafailovich. Despite their large energy savings, consumers should be careful when using compact fluorescent light bulbs. Our research shows that it is best to avoid using them at close distances and that they are safest when placed behind an additional glass cover. Media Matters noted recently that "right wing media outlets" had seized upon this study to promote "cancerous lightbulb fear mongering," but they also acknowledged that simple measures can be taken to protect against the minimal risk. So, if you're laboring long hours under a CFL powered desk lamp, it's wise to install double envelope CFL bulbs (the encapsulated kind), use a shade, or both". 

The above controversy should not drag on endlessly like the one about Cell phone dangers now being debated, though no concrete proof still exists regarding the harmful effects of using this communication gadget. Designing a lighting system involves deriving maximum flux with minimum discomfort and risks to the users and those who developed CFL as a superior alternative to traditional electric lights must have done adequate studies on its safety to satisfy the regulatory authorities both at country as well as international levels. Of course there is nothing like absolute safety in any human endeavor and after all life is a fine balance between risks and living comforts. Light Emitting Diodes (LED) is another alternative with superior energy efficiency and the only thing that holds it from becoming popular is the exorbitant cost of the system as of now. So far LED system has been found to be safe and with the cost coming down rapidly due to new innovative developments, LED may become the global standard in coming years. In the mean time CFL manufacturers will do well to take the warning about radiation seriously and strive to re-jig the system to make it more reassuring to millions of consumers world over.    


Saturday, August 18, 2012


The front of the pack labeling regulations are supposed to help the consumers to understand better about many aspects of the contents inside including nutritive value. However due to practical reasons there is a limit as to how much information can be loaded on the labels and there are doubts regarding the effectiveness of the present regulations. In a country like India such declaration printed in English has very little value as majority of the population are English illiterate and the information provided probably does not serve the consumer community much. Still the current labeling practices do serve a purpose in documenting the nature of the product for quality and safety agencies to administer food laws. Having established beyond a shadow of doubt regarding the role played by sugar in progressively deteriorating health status of human beings in many countries, knowing the sugar content in a product helps the consumer to pick and choose those with least sugar levels among processed food products. One of the new proposals now being considered to improve the effectiveness of labeling involves declaration of "added sugar" in the product during processing. Whether this will serve any purpose or how added sugar can be distinguished from naturally present sugar are issues which require to be deliberated before implementing the same. Here is a take on this new rumblings in the food processing sector with a potential to polarize the stakeholders further in the coming months. 

The American Bakers Assn. objects to the plan, saying (among other things) that since added and natural sugars are chemically the same, to enforce the labels the FDA would have to be able to inspect companies' recipes and they don't have the authority to do that. At the FDA website, you can read about the FDA's proposal and view comments that have been submitted. The National Dairy Council says such labels could lead to consumer confusion and unintended consequences, such as people avoiding nutritious foods that have sugars added to make them more tasty. They note that you can already see how much sugar is in food from the info on food packages right now. The National Milk Producers Federation worries about consumer confusion too. The Sugar Assn. recommends the study is not done, for a variety of reasons: They say the effect of added sugar on obesity is overstated, the FDA wouldn't have the regulatory power to act on this info, and that "it is in the public interest that FDA maintain its focus on the prominence of calories, maintain its science-based positions regarding added sugars labeling, and not further confuse consumers by adding unwarranted information to the [Nutrition Facts Panel]." And so it goes on … the National Confectioners Assn.opposes the research, the American Beverage Assn. opposes it.......while......on the flip side, the American Heart Assn."strongly supports the inclusion of added sugars on the Nutrition Facts Label" and writes that "In addition to the AHA, the 2010 Dietary Guidelines,, and countless other sources of dietary guidance recommend that consumers limit consumption of added sugars. Yet this can be difficult to do because added sugars are not currently included on the Nutrition Facts label. While 'sugars' is listed, the Nutrition Facts label does not distinguish between naturally occurring sugars such as those found in fruit or milk, which are associated with other important components inherent to foods such as vitamins and minerals, and added sugars, which are not." The Center for Science in the Public Interest is for the study, The Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity at Yale University is for the study too. It is, of course, true that people can be misled if they overly focus on one particular facet of a food and that current labels on food packages are very good at helping us get confused that way. "Low-fat" items can contain just as many calories as higher-fat foods, and "organic" processed foods can be just as junky as any other kind, and just because Lucky Charms are made with whole grains, that does not make them a health food.

In a society where daily diet is made of processed foods as high as 70-80%, extent of sugar added by the industry during formulation may be critical and is controllable either voluntarily or by mandate. In such an environment declaration of added sugar can at least make the processor sensitive to the level of sugar incorporated and there is a possibility that voluntary reduction can be achieved. This is already happening with respect to salt and there is no reason it cannot happen with sugar too. It is not understandable as to why sugar needs to be added in high concentrations when many products can be still palatable at sugar levels of 10-15%. The current proposal to force the processors to declare the extent of sugar added can even set in motion competition among the processors to reduce added sugar as much as possible to gain consumer patronage. Technically it may be difficult to estimate in a finished product how much sugar has been added but as the processor knows the truth he can be forced to declare the same. While voluntary declaration of added sugar can be immediately enforced, monitory regime can be thought of later when reliable and simpler techniques are available for differentiating between natural and added sugar.  


Friday, August 17, 2012


Salt and fat in the foods consumed by human beings, are two constituents which are considered to be critical in controlling many life style diseases like CVD, Blood Pressure, Kidney disorders etc and their reduction in the diet is a necessity to control further escalation of the risks to the health of consumers. These two substances present naturally in many foods. per se do not present any dangers as Nature has made sure that they are invariably present in moderate quantities in most foods but they become a risk when added to foods while processing to enhance the sensory quality to make them more appealing  and literally addictive. Realizing the dangers posed by salt to human beings, sustained campaigns are going on world over to persuade the industry to reduce salt incorporated during processing. Same is true for fat also and here the success rate in making and marketing no-fat and low fat products has been phenomenal. While most foods are amenable to efforts to reduce salt and fat without seriously affecting their organoleptic attributes seriously, Cheese is an exception in that salt and fat are the critical ingredients that decide the acceptability to the consumers.   

"Under pressure to reduce sodium and saturated fats in American diets — especially those of children — the cheese industry has tried to make products with less salt or fat that consumers will like. It has not had great success. "We've made some progress in that arena," said Gregory D. Miller, president of the Dairy Research Institute. "But we have not been able to crack the code." Dr. Miller, whose group is financed by the dairy industry, was referring to efforts to reduce salt, but he had a similar appraisal of the challenges of low-fat cheese. "When you take a lot of the fat out, essentially cheese will turn into an eraser," he said. The trouble with cheese is that salt and fat are critical components, responsible for far more of its character than consumers might think. Salt helps control moisture content and bacterial activity — the starter culture that is added to the milk and naturally occurring strains. All of them can flavor the cheese, for better or worse, as it ages. "Salt serves as a preservative, as a director of flavor development," said Mark Johnson, senior scientist with the Wisconsin Center for Dairy Research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. "If I remove it, my flavor goes in a different direction." Fat affects moisture levels, too — less fat generally means more water, which can speed spoilage — and helps govern texture, balancing out proteins so a cheese slices properly and feels right when chewed. Because salt and fat both affect moisture, it is particularly difficult to make a product that is low in both".

Cheese is historically an American food consumed in large quantities because it costs relatively less compared to the cost of fluid milk. To a large extent lower cost of  cheese in the US is as a result of deliberate government policy to help the dairy industry which gets fluid milk for making products at practically throw away prices. Fluid milk prices therefore are raised to compensate the producers for the loss incurred due to sale of milk to the processing industry. No doubt Cheese is a highly nutritious food containing more than 30% high quality proteins but its 35% fat content makes Cheese a dangerous food too if not consumed in moderate quantities. The salt content varies from 300 mg (spreads) to 1650 mg (Roquefort) of Sodium equivalent per 100 gm and if cheese is not consumed beyond 30-50 gm a day, the salt present in cheese is unlikely to be of any consequence. The salt need of human body is placed at 5-6 gm (2-2.4 gm of sodium equivalent) a day per person. But imagine the consequences of liberal consumption of more cheese on the health. Though an average American eats about 16 kg of cheese annually, what is surprising is that cheese consumption is more than double this quantity in a country like Greece! Whether Cheese is really the culprit for host of health disorders prevalent in the US is a matter of opinion as the per capita average consumption figure is less than 50 gm a day. What is however more dangerous definitely is the saturated fat content in cheese which can be a factor in obesity development. Dairy technologists will have to double up their efforts to bring down both salt and fat in cheese products and technical problems cannot be cited as an excuse for not doing this.


Thursday, August 16, 2012


Thousands of youngsters who are working in many technology parks in India depend on in-house cafeterias and nearby restaurants for their daily foods as most of them are unmarried adults with no wherewithal to cook at their residential facilities. The disadvantage with such mass cooked foods by caterers is that within no time monotony sets in and foods served become unacceptable progressively with no excitement normally associated with variety and novelty. Besides food safety is a terrible concern for them as incidences of food poisoning make them some what nervous. After all peak productivity is a distinct outcome of culinary satisfaction and best way to achieve this can be by getting access to foods prepared by hand by small time traditional female chefs in good families. Such services involving delivery of home cooked foods are very common in a city like Mumbai where thousands of meals are delivered to offices from the homes of office going employees in their own personal containers which has captured world wide attention. Here comes another development in a place like Thiruvananthapuram Technopark in Kerala where delivery of home cooked foods is becoming an accepted practice by small family based catering homes nearby.  

Such home-food delivery services around the IT park have become a last refuge for techies. Post the 'shawarma' incident in the city, where a young man died of food poisoning after eating the Arabian delicacy last month, eating fast food rings an alarm bell these days, especially for techies, many of whom are staying away from homes. Two years into home-food business, Thomas George David, who runs 'Taste Home,' says he has always been careful with the kind of ingredients that go into the food. "I am aware of the problems that happen in hotels. But at Taste Home, all the work is done in a hygienic environment since it is our home. We also get bulk orders for home parties," says Mr. David. Such home-cooked food at affordable rates is also a blessing for the many people working in the security and cleaning departments at Technopark. "We cannot afford the food at the food courts here and so we buy these packets when we are unable to bring lunch from home," says S. Beena, a member of the cleaning staff. The easiest option for techies is, of course, to throng the food courts but those who are aware of the health consequences have taken up what they call 'group cooking.' A few of them have started making use of their otherwise untouched kitchens to cook food whenever time permits. Most of the employees, who have rented houses in groups, find this as the most feasible option for healthy meals everyday. "We are a group of six girls and we have rented a flat. We decided to share money to buy groceries and take turns to cook," says Anu Davis, an employee at Infosys. Their monthly visits home are also the time to get new recipes, those that they hope to perfect in some time.

The IT employers cannot be blamed for the unsatisfactory quality of food served in cafeterias and food courts within their premises because such mass catering can never be a solution for the craving for good foods with variety and quality. It is known that in many small cities there are home based cookeries serving a limited number of meals to senior citizens and other customers with no access to good foods and who are nostalgic about the foods of yester years. Home based catering system is an excellent one that serves well both the supplier as well as the consumer and must be encouraged by the civic authorities in every town and city through minimum bureaucratic hassles like licensing, regulation, high handed inspection and frequent harassment. There is a case for encouraging these family enterprises through better awareness programs and training for ensuring minimum hygiene and sanitation.  


Wednesday, August 15, 2012


Recent outbreak of a peculiar allergy syndrome in some parts of the US raised serious concerns among food safety experts because of its lack of resemblance to any other allergies known earlier. Popularly known allergies from foods are invariably attributed to proteins of different nature contained in them but it is for the first time that a polysaccharide was implicated in human allergy. Detailed investigation revealed that this allergy is caused only in consumers eating meat and attempts to use this as an excuse for advocating vegetarianism does not make any sense. After all meat was being eaten for ages without this allergy raising its head till recently. Fortunately scientific investigations were able to pin point the source of the allergen and it should be possible to avoid by taking adequate precaution in protecting the meat animals from infestation with certain species of ticks. Here is an expose on the above unusual allergy. 

"Fortunately for those inflicted by this mysterious allergy, one of the victims of this strange disease was Dr. Thomas Platts-Mills, a reknowned University of Virginia immunologist. Dr. Platts-Mills and his colleagues at UVA have been on a mission to figure out just what is going on. They reported initially in 2009 on what appeared to be a wholly new type of food allergy: cases of anaphylactic shock that were not occurring immediately after a food was eaten as is typical for food allergies, but which had its onset 3-4 hours after consumption of the trigger. In the spring of 2011, the team of researchers came to an even more surprising conclusion: tick bites are causing meat allergies. The trigger turns out to be an oligosaccharide (a complex sugar, galactose-alpha 1,3-galactose or alpha-gal, if you like scientific names) contained in the cell on non-primate mammals -- that means a molecule that is in beef, pork, lamb, and other meats that is not found naturally in human cells. Alpha-gal in the tick's saliva sensitizes susceptible people when they are bitten; hives or anaphylactic shock result when the person subsequently ingests alpha-gal in meat".

Unique features of this allergy include its polysaccharide nature and delayed manifestation of allergic symptoms taking as much as 3-4 hours after consumption of the infested meat. It is intriguing as to how a polysaccharide like alpha-gal can get entry into the human digestive tract to cause allergy as such complex carbohydrates are not known to be digested in human system. Also why it should take hours for the allergy to be manifested is another unanswered question in this episode. Though the number of people affected by this latest allergy episode is very few, as a scientific curiosity, further investigation may reveal interesting biochemical evolutionary developments involving polysaccharide metabolism in human beings.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Yogurt or Curd which is an essential component of staple diet in India has been hibernating in the homes for centuries without getting into the main stream market due to many reasons including lack of preservation technology and poor cold chain infrastructure for distribution and retailing. This situation seems to be changing with many domestic and foreign players getting into this sector to make available standard curd based products like frozen yogurt with a variety of flavor and taste. Traditionally curd is made at home and consumed either with the main meals or as a beverage like Lassi and many urban regions have milk shops preparing these products to be made and consumed fresh on the spot. Attempts by some dairy processors to make and market "set curds" using standardized cultures have been going on for some time but without creating any flutter in the market place. During the last few years the curd market is witnessing some turbulence with many cooperative dairy units able to raise volume for their simple curd packed in poly pouches for sale through the fluid milk distribution net work. It is only now that frozen yogurt products which are internationally known are entering in India for offering these products using state of the art technology. If the reports are to be believed the yogurt market is clocking growth in the range of 15-18% annually and business predictions indicate literally flooding of the market place by different branded products in the coming years. Here is a commentary on this exciting development in India. 

The Indian consumer with disposable income is turning to frozen yogurt as a healthy alternative to high-calorie desserts. And leading international players are fast moving in to tap into the growing market, including Red Mango, Canada-based Kiwi Kiss, South Korea's Yogurberry, France's Danone and Switzerland's Nestlé. The Los Angeles-based chain Pinkberry is reported to be getting ready to enter India by the end of this year. Meanwhile, leading Indian brands such as Mother Dairy and Amul have also been expanding their yogurt portfolio. The New Delhi–based research and consultancy firm Technopak Advisors estimates the global frozen yogurt market at around $75 to $77 billion and growing at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15% to 18%. Of this, the U.S. accounts for $11 billion and is growing at a CAGR of 10% to 12%. In India, yogurt is classified under the health and wellness food segment. Technopak estimates that in 2011, this segment garnered around $2 billion in revenues. Over the next three years, it is expected to grow to $5 billion. Pratichee Kapoor, associate vice president for food services and agriculture at Technopak, says the packaged yogurt market (plain and flavored) currently constitutes around 7% to 8% of the total health and wellness segment in India and was worth around $150 million in 2011. It is growing at a CAGR of 18% to 20% and is poised to double in size by 2015. According to Technopak the ice cream and frozen dessert market in India — which includes frozen yogurt — was estimated to be at $450 million in 2009-2010 and is expected to cross $900 million by 2014-2015. A separate figure for the share of the frozen yogurt market was not available.

What ever the market predictions, it is a fact that yogurt is liked by Indians and fortunately curd based products targeted at kids in stead of high fat and high sugar ice cream products, are healthier choices. Originally started as an alternative to ice creams by the industry which wanted to circumvent the rigid standards for ice cream, the concept seems to have become popular with billions of dollars of frozen yogurts being consumed world over. Though frozen yogurt is being promoted as a healthy choice it is some what unclear whether all the health claims made on the label are sustainable under scientific scrutiny. There are flavored Lassi products already being served from thousands of shops, especially in the North. However these are made from fresh curds with no thermal processing involved but packed frozen yogurt does undergo some processing which may affect the effective concentration of probiotic bacteria in such products. One advantage for Lassi over frozen yogurt is that it is available in salty taste also unlike the the latter which are intensely sweetened. The food authorities will have to come out with specific standards, especially with regard to the bacterial levels in such products and probably frozen yogurt will have to come under the category of proprietary products until such time proper standards are promulgated in the country. Commercially processed yogurt preparations now made in India will definitely provide variety to the consumer beyond what is available earlier. From the health point of view there is no doubt that frozen yogurt is preferable to ice cream any day.


What has been suspected long ago has turned out to be true going by the recent criticism of GM crops by the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture in India. In a stinging commentary on the scientific groups that cleared Bt Cotton and Bt Brinjal, the Committee called for a thorough investigation into its action, implying that the decision to give clearance was based on considerations other than interests of the consumer and the farmer. It is rare that law makers in India take so much interest in matters related to common man and it deserves full kudos for this yeoman service to the nation. It may be recalled that Bt Brinjal almost got through the clearance mechanism of the government and would have become a source of danger to the farming community but for sustained hostility shown by many renowned scientists, consumers and social activists. Wisdom did dawn finally on the Environment Minister of GOI to deny permission for cultivation of GM Brinjal after a series of public debates in some of the cities during 2010. Here is a report on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee that may have far reaching implications for future efforts by vested interests to introduce GM technology based agricultural crops.  

"In a major setback to the proponents of genetically modified technology in farm crops, the Parliamentary Committee on Agriculture on Thursday asked the government to stop all field trials and sought a bar on GM food crops (such as Bt. brinjal). The committee report, tabled in the Lok Sabha, demanded a "thorough probe" into how permission was given to commercialise Bt. brinjal seed when all evaluation tests were not carried out. It said there were indications of a "collusion of the worst kind from the beginning till the imposition of a moratorium on its commercialisation in February, 2010, by the then Minister for Environment and Forests." The report came a day after Maharashtra cancelled Mahyco's licence to sell its Bt. cotton seeds. It flayed the government for not discussing the issue in Parliament and observed that the Ministry failed in its responsibility by introducing such a policy, ignoring the interests of the 70 per cent small and marginal farmers. The report criticised the composition and regulatory role of the Genetic Engineering Approval (Appraisal) Committee and the Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation (RCGM). According to Committee chairman Basudeb Acharia, there is not a single note of dissent in the report of the 31-member panel, including nine from the Congress and six from the BJP. Observing that GM crops (such as Bt. cotton) benefited the (seed) industry without a "trickle-down" gain to farmers, it recommended that till all concerns were addressed, further research and development should be done only in contained conditions. Citing instances of conflict of interest of various stakeholders, the panel said the government must put in place all regulatory, monitoring, oversight and surveillance systems. Raising the "ethical dimensions" of transgenics in agricultural crops, as well as studies of a long-term environmental and chronic toxicology impact, the panel noted that there were no significant socio-economic benefits to farmers. On the contrary, farmers have incurred huge debts because of this capital-intensive practice. "Today, 93 per cent of the area is under Bt. cotton because no alternative seeds are available," Mr. Acharia said".

It is very true that more than 80% of the food crops in the United States are raised through GM crop seeds and one may argue that nothing untoward has happened so far to the population there. A counter question can logically be raised as to why GM crops have not been approved universally except in the US and a handful of other countries in this Universe, if it is absolutely safe?. The terrible tragedy that is facing the cotton farmers in India is a classical example of government policies imposed on farmers without giving adequate thought to the damage that can be caused in the long term. To day the cotton cultivators are facing penury because the GM version they used did not get them any where and traditional cotton seeds of assured viability are in short supply. Without going into the merits and demerits of GM technology, it is suffice to say that unless GM foods are proved safe conclusively or its potential to increase crop yields significantly at comparable costs confirmed, no country should accept the same unreservedly. The fact that GM seeds are produced by a couple of monolithic transnational agricultural giants, with a track record of deception and arm twisting, makes the matter worse. There must be a global public initiative under the banner of FAO of the UN to look into Genetic Engineering science in toto and the GM seeds, if found advantageous in any way with assured safety, should be made a common property universally accessible, in stead being monopolistic ownership as it exists to day.


Saturday, August 11, 2012


Emergence of new strains of pathogens resistant to all known antibiotic drugs is a matter of concern for medical communities all over the world. Detection of this trait in Klebsiella recently in the US is a pointer to the spread of more and more virulent strains of simple bacteria with high resistance to most known drugs. It was in India that the existence of a new set of genes that confer resistance to many drugs was reported and now it is more or less admitted that plasmids from such genes are easily transferred to any bacterium which can make it drug resistant. Such bacterial strains are a potent source of creating many types of Frankenstein disease vectors with no vulnerability to all known treatment regimes known to human beings. Here is a commentary on this new development.  

The bacteria are called carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae or CRE. They're black sheep in a big herd of mostly harmless germs that includes common organisms inhabiting every body's gut, such as the familiar E. coli. In the Rhode Island case, the germ was Klebsiella, which can cause pneumonia and a variety of other infections. The particular trait of these bugs causing most concern is a set of genes, originally seen in New Delhi, that confer resistance to practically all antibiotics. Even more alarming, these New Delhi genes reside on a circular piece of DNA called a plasmid that can be transferred easily to many other kinds of bacteria, rendering them "extensively drug resistant," or XDR. The CDC says only one antibiotic, called colistin, can treat the New Delhi strain.While other forms of CRE have been seen in U.S. hospitals and nursing homes with increasing frequency over the past decade, the New Delhi variant is only beginning to show up.

If such trends continue and the list of drug resistant pathogens grows fast in the coming years the medical community will have no armor to fight them unless more investment flows into research to fight this phenomenon. While hygiene and sanitation play a role in resisting infection, the poor economic and educational standards in many third world countries make it difficult to make the people follow measures like frequent hand washing and other pre-emptive practices. A drastic re-calibration of the primary health centers providing more teeth to the programs concerned with early detection of such debilitating diseases like TB and others will go a long way to arrest their spread on the track. No matter how much public money flows into disease fighting programs in every country, ultimate responsibility falls on the individual to protect himself from such incidences through conscious personal efforts.    



Food industry is considered one of the biggest polluters both solid as well as liquid types and in spite of more and more stringent pollution control measures being promulgated in most countries the problem does not seem to be going away. By far plastics have been blamed as post processing pollutants caused by the consumers after opening and using the contents and if a recent report is to be believed almost 5 million tons of plastic wastes flow into seas and oceans making these water bodies literally toxic to marine creatures supposed to be thriving in this habitat Of course all these "garbage" materials do not originate from food processing but still it is substantial. Beverage industry which manufactures cans sells billions of units of different varieties of drinks, mostly in plastic and glass bottles, metal cans and laminated pouches and boxes, has not bothered to see beyond their factory gates as to what happens to these packaging materials once the contents are consumed by the people. While glass bottlers are recycled for economic reasons, some attempts are being made to recycle plastic bottles also. Billions of cans and bottles which end up in the garbage and public places do not seem to have any "ownership" because the industry from where they originate does not seem to be too much concerned about the nuisance caused by them. But all of a sudden some industry players are claiming that their used containers, cast away so recklessly, should not be used by any one for any purpose. Here is a ring side view of a developing story that pitches world's largest soda maker against an entrepreneur who is trying to use these discarded containers for promoting his home scale soda making gadgets by sending a message that industrial products create so much waste and pollution that can be avoided by making better soda at home..   

"Here, here. Even if, just like in Sodastream's cages, it's not just Coke's bottles and cans that are the problem. You can't just single out Coke for being the problem here, it's an entire culture of disposability. Ultimately it does seem like Coke wants it both ways: Disclaiming responsibility for ownership of cans and bottles when littering is concerned or there is a suggestion, as Lloyd has suggested many-a-time here on TreeHugger, that beverage manufacturers should be legally required to take back their bottles and cans, but then saying they own them, via intellectual property and trademarks, when the same waste product is used against them. Even if the law comes down against Sodastream on this one—and I could see that happening—common sense clearly favors Sodastream, especially as Coke is not being singled out. Sodastream is holding all disposable beverage containers up to the same ridicule here. If Sodastream were saying something positive about all those cans no doubt Coca Cola wouldn't have a problem with it".

The commercial soda manufacturer has taken exception to the use of discarded cans in exhibitions promoting the home soda machine and is threatening to sue him if he does not desist from such practices fearing that it will show commercially available products in bad light. It may be a logical action considering that use of containers in such exhibitions can adversely affect the reputation of the brand assuming that the promotors criticize the products directly for its quality or healthiness. However in this case all that has been done is sending a message that commercial bottling in general produces enormous wastes and pollutants. It will be interesting to watch further development in this evolving battle between the two adversaries which can rightly be called a "David Vs Goliath" war! One is tempted to ask whether if beverage manufacturers claim ownership of used containers scattered all over the world, will they also take up the responsibility for their safe disposal without harming Mother Nature?  It is morally reprehensible for any one to claim ownership of public garbage but shirk the responsibility to clean it up! Dont they know that playing the "dog in the manger" game does not pay or the "having the cake as well as eat it" attitude cannot work always!