Thursday, December 27, 2012


The controversy surrounding the reported incidence of massive contamination of the Appam prasadam in Sabarimala shrine refuses to die down while the truth is yet to emerge as to what has really happened there. If the authorities concerned have burned about 3 lakh pieces, as being reported, there must be some thing seriously wrong with the management system there deserving immediate intervention. It is inconceivable that a product like Appam as being prepared in Sabarimala can attract fungus growth because of its very low moisture content and water activity. Preparing under unhygienic conditions can contribute to contamination but frying at temperatures above 160C is bound to destroy any infecting vectors beyond doubt. That leads to the conclusion that either the frying was not proper or the product was stored for longer time allowing surface moistening under high humidity conditions that prevail in Kerala, especially during rains. Here is a take on this issue as being reported in the media.

"The report of the microbiology lab of Council for Food Research and Development (CFRD) at Konni in Pathanamthitta district, which examined the samples of the appam, say that the fungus had developed in the sweetmeat since it had been either prepared in unhygienic condition or not cooked fully. The CFRD is a State-Centre joint venture. The fungus found in the appam can cause liver ailment in adults and can kill children, says the report. Sources did not disclose more details of the report as it has to be submitted before the  Kerala High Court, which closely monitors the activities at the temple. It has even appointed a special envoy to the temple to report the developments during the annual pilgrimage. The temple authorities claim that the stale "appams" were destroyed. Pilgrims still complain that they are getting fungus-infected "appams."

The analysis report by a NABL accredited laboratory in Kerala that the samples they had picked were fungus infected has some credibility but just an isolated sample result cannot allow any one to generalize the situation. What is needed is a thorough reassessment of the on going practices at the temple kitchens and identify deficiencies, if any, to modify the production technology and the environment. It is an established convention that any large scale food manufacturing facilities such as the one at Sabarimala should have a very strong quality monitoring regime which only can assure uniform quality and reasonable safety of products coming out of the production line. One wonders why the authorities responsible cannot go for modern quality and management protocols and certification systems like ISO 14000 or HACCP or SAP which after all does not cost much and easily affordable to a cash rich organization like the Travancore Devaswam Board. Sooner it is done better it will be for the health of millions of unsuspecting devotees who throng the shrine round the year.


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