Wednesday, February 27, 2013


Colonialism is considered a dirty word in the modern world because of the exploitative nature of the relationship between the rulers and the vassals. British Prime Minister, representing the most powerful colonial power till the middle of last century, is reported have expressed his regret for the harsh regime it had used to rule the country for more than 3 centuries, while making a business cum friendship visit to this country recently! Who would have thought that in a reversal of history India itself, forgetting its past, could try to be a colonial power with a difference, the modus operandi being economic imperialism! That is what is being reported from Africa where earth's most impoverished people eke out a  miserable living due to abject poverty. In a recent report from Ethiopia, the economic muscle of Indian business enterprises has been unveiled which may be some what disturbing. Here is a take on this new issue that is confronting the world to day. 

Indian companies are among the biggest players in the land deals, with investments of over $ 5 billion, and leases over 6,00,000 hectares. Karuturi Global, a Bangalore-based agroproduce company has alone received 3,00,000 hectares. Claims by these companies and by the Ethiopian government that the deals are legal and entail no human rights violations, have been shown as false in a series of on-ground investigations. The Oakland Institute has meticulously documented the nexus of corporations, politicians, investors, and officials that has made the land-grab possible.It notes that there is no public consultation with local communities (much less their consent), many of whom find out that their pastures or fields have been sold off only when bulldozers arrive. Any form of resistance or even questioning is met with imprisonment, beating up, and even killing. Both private security companies and the Ethiopian government's own forces are used to protect the investors. And there is a total lack of environmental and social impact assessments in these deals. It is also stated sometimes that what Indian companies are doing abroad, is not the responsibility of the government. But this ignores the various ways in which the Indian government facilitates and supports such deals, not only through diplomatic channels but also financially (even if indirectly). For instance the Indian Export-Import Bank has pledged $640 million of credit over five years for Ethiopia's sugar industry, and the fact that Indian companies are getting the biggest deals for sugarcane plantations cannot be unconnected 

There is another perspective to leasing of land in undeveloped and under developed countries by business conglomerates from emerging economies like India and China. In theory putting fallow land into use for food production is a laudable act which deserves appreciation but if the local people suffer due to large scale displacement and loss of regular avocation, it cannot be acceptable and this seems to be what is happening in Ethiopia, a poor country in Africa where large acreage of land is being "cornered" by Indian business men with deep pockets in connivance with the local government. It is conceded that India has some scarcity of arable land and Indian agricultural entrepreneurs are known to be industrious and efficient. However if the fruits of their venture are exported massively where will the local population go for their food? This is where the national governments will have to be careful while opening the flood gates for foreign investment in agriculture through land leasing arrangements. An international legal frame work will have to be enforced when agricultural lands are leased out to rich landlords for raising land productivity and increased food production.  


Monday, February 25, 2013


The strength of the often maligned food industry lies in its power to innovate as per the demand of the consumer but a major segment of this sector, knowing fully well that what they are doing is not justifiable measured by any yardstick ignore consumer susceptibilities in pursuit of quick money at high rate of returns to their investment. But a time has come when the industry cannot ignore the consumer community any more and it can afford to refuse to change this attitude only at its own peril. It is a question of time before the governments all over the world start putting stringent restrictions to force the change in favor of the citizens. As yet another new year has dawned, many pundits warn that time is running out for the industry to mend its ways. The three most challenging issues that will confront the stake holders in this food "game" are considered to be cutting down food wastes, humane animal handling including raring them and more transparent labeling for better understanding of the products offered. Here is an observation by one of the critics regarding these issues.

"This year we saw the "end" of Twinkies, the explosion of caffeinated foods, and even DIY marshmallows. But in my opinion, three food issues of great importance finally made it into mainstream American consciousness in 2012, giving us hope for real change in the food system.  Food waste, humane animal treatment (including antibiotic use) and food labeling all took the leap and are now common household topics. And in all three cases, people are using the Internet and a host of apps to discuss these topics, to educate the public and to inspire each other to act, and buy, better."

Though it has been in the public realm most pundits agree that the food waste could be as high as 35-50% of production globally, precious little could be achieved in reducing such colossal waste, in spite of the ground reality that almost 30% of the world population go to bed hungry due to uncertain accessibility to basic foods. Similarly the failure of Californian voters to force the industry to improve the labels through more transparent disclosure does not lessen the gravity of the labeling crisis that is confronting the consumers. Reports after reports, the pitiable conditions in thousands of animal and poultry farms and the inhuman way they are handled and butchered can put to shame even the fiercest beast, namely the Lion which does not have any feeling towards its prey! These three problems will definitely come to the fore during the year 2013 and one can only hope that significant progress will be achieved in all these areas through the sustained efforts of consumer activists and animal protectionist organizations. 


Saturday, February 23, 2013


Those who eat wheat bread have ever wondered why they prefer it over products from other grains? Probably they might not have any clue and even the wheat scientists were not clear about this puzzle till recently. While consumption of bread from refined wheat flour, called in India as Maida, is predominant world over, its real reason was that traditionally for centuries only good raising and crust can be obtained during baking of bread only when gluten content is high (after removal of bran and germ). It is only recently there was a craze for whole wheat bread considering that it is rich in bran, fiber and many healthy phytochemicals. Of course bakers had to struggle with right recipe and ingredients to come up with a bread from whole wheat flour that can ensure desirable crumb and crust texture and right color. One of the discoveries which unfolded recently is that the extraordinarily appealing aroma of bread comes from the bran which contains the chemical Ferulic acid. The so called "Hot Bread" shops exploit this aroma to attract customers who can see the bread making process and receive the freshly baked bread right out of the oven! Here is an interesting exposition about Ferulic acid's role in fresh bread aroma. 

"What makes whole wheat bread a lot more appetising and tasty -- it just boils down to controlling the amounts of ferulic acid (FA), a compound found in wheat bran. Devin G. Peterson and colleagues from the University of Minnesota explain that whole wheat flour includes all three layers of the grain - bran, germ and endosperm - while refined flour is mostly endosperm. Wheat flour is also rich in fibre and phytochemicals which lowers cancer, heart, obesity and diabetes risks and is more health giving than its refined white counterpart, the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reports. Peterson and team focused on ferulic acid. When they added it to white flour dough, the bread tasted and smelled like wheat bread. Understanding these chemical reactions could help bakers make healthier bread more appetizing, the study suggests, according to a Minnesota statement. Despite wheat bread's benefits, many consumers choose white bread because they prefer its taste and aroma. Peterson wanted to find out how one specific compound prevalent in whole wheat flour impacts its taste and aroma".

This study should not be a basis for bakeries to incorporate chemically extracted Ferulic acid in refined wheat flour to mimic the aroma of whole wheat based bread products. All said and done whole wheat is much more superior to commercially manufactured white flour in terms many desirable nutrients and industry should not be allowed to get away through such nutrition depleting process of making bread through addition of Ferulic acid to flours devoid of useful nutrients. It is a good thing that bakery industry is increasingly realizing  the ground reality about consumer thinking and must strive to satisfy their desire for products which are as nutritious as possible. After all a sizable population in this planet has bread and bakery products as staple foods and their health is closely linked to the nutritive value of these products.  


Thursday, February 21, 2013


Who has not heard of the recent adulteration episode in Europe where horse meat was used to extend the beef content in hundreds of products labeled as beef? Though the ramification of such wide spread food fraud is limited to economic cheating, it does not make such products dangerous or unhealthy to the consumers. Paradoxically horse meat is no way inferior to beef though many sources do contain residues of some performance enhancing drugs which may pose some hazard. Close on the heels of this episode comes the news that American consumers are facing a similar situation vis-a-vis fish products. It was shocking that almost one third of market samples of fish products claimed to be based on Red Snapper, a much valued fish species, were made with other varieties with little or no resemblance to the former! Here is a take on this mislabeling practices widely prevalent in United State of America.    

"That tempting seafood delight glistening on the ice at the market, or sizzling at the restaurant table in its aromatic jacket of garlic and ginger? It may not be at all what you think, or indeed even close, according to a big new study of fish bought and genetically tested in 12 parts of the country — in restaurants, markets and sushi bars — by a nonprofit ocean protection group, Oceana. In the 120 samples labeled red snapper and bought for testing nationwide, for example, 28 different species of fish were found, including 17 that were not even in the snapper family, according to the study, which was released Thursday. The study also contained surprises about where consumers were most likely to be misled — sushi bars topped the list in every city studied — while grocery stores were most likely to be selling fish honestly. Restaurants ranked in the middle. Part of the problem, said the study's chief author, Kimberly Warner, is that there are quite simply a lot of fish in the sea, and many of them look alike. Over all, the study found that about one-third of the 1,215 fish samples bought, from 2010 to 2012, were mislabeled."Even a relatively educated consumer couldn't look at a whole fish and say, 'I'm sure that's a red snapper and not lane snapper,' " she said.

Here again nutritionally it could make very little difference whether the product is based on Red Snapper or any other fish as long they are edible. But such practices are considered unethical and amounts to cheating those who ardently love Red Snapper as a fish of their preference. While during olden days there was hardly any tool available to detect such adulteration, advent of gene testing readily offers a convenient route to differentiate between various living species. Adulteration is one of the oldest professions and no matter how diligent the consumer is, it will continue as long as there is attractive "bonus" for the fraudsters. No wonder costly products like Olive oil, Caviar, Honey, Saffron, Coffee, Tea etc attract adulterators like flies to a piece of jaggery, the basis being higher the cost more will be the profit!



Is the experience of consumers in rich countries like the US of any guidance to developing countries and emerging economies in the realm of processed food and its relation to citizen's health? One single lesson that may have very high relevance will be to keep away processed foods as being churned out in wealthy countries like the US as much as possible if consumer health is not to be compromised. If over weight, obesity, CVD, cancer, blood pressure and other life debilitating illnesses are any indication of the health of a nation, developing countries are much better off, probably because of relatively low intake of commercial foods from the industry as a part of their diet. It is now being reported that giant food companies that control almost in fifth of world market for processed foods are feeling the pinch in expanding their business in most wealthy countries with practically zero population growth and almost saturated markets. To overcome the present business stagnation, multinational companies are targeting countries like China, India and other neo-economic powers to make their over riding presence in the coming years. Here is a take on this disturbing development which must concern all those interested in safeguarding their health.

Moodie and colleagues say that the food and drink industries should be treated like the tobacco industry - as companies with too much of a vested interest in the sale of unhealthy products to help curb the epidemic of disease. They must have no role in the formulation of national or international policy, they say. "Regulation, or the threat of regulation, is the only way to change these transnational corporations. The industry must be put under pressure if it is to change." The researchers were unable to find any health benefit to industry involvement in voluntary regulation or public-private partnerships. Industry documents, they say, reveal how companies shape public-health legislation and avoid regulation. They build "financial and institutional relations" with health professionals, non-governmental organisations, and national and international health agencies, says the paper. They distort research findings and they lobby politicians to oppose health care reform. Huge multinational companies dominate sales worldwide. "The frequently used term 'competitive market' suggests a wide variety of traders; however, the most powerful corporate sectors of the world's food system are increasingly concentrated to the point of oligopoly. "For example, in the USA, the 10 largest food companies control more than half of all food sales. Worldwide, this proportion is about 15% and is rising rapidly. More than half of global soft drinks are produced by large transnational companies." The multinationals are now moving in on the developing world, the researchers say. "Saturation of markets in high-income countries has caused the industries to rapidly penetrate emerging global markets, as the tobacco industry has done. Almost all growth in the foreseeable future in profits and sales of these unhealthy commodities will be in low-income and middle-income countries [where consumption is currently low]."

Recent aggressive action of multinationals like Walmart and others in gaining entry to India is primarily due to the above perception and it is sad that pliable governments are succumbing to this strategy without realizing the long term consequences of allowing these predators into their country. In theory there is no harm in providing a free environment to all players engaged in food manufacture but in practice food ventures need large investments and gestation periods to become viable. Most local entrepreneurs with limited resources are bought out eventually creating a virtual monopoly shared by a few foreign players. With weak kneed safety policing regime in countries like India, these MNCs become "Lord of all they purvey" with no control on them! It is time people hold the government and the governing class responsible for such unhealthy policies and bring some sanity in promulgating consumer friendly policies.



The much touted new safety regulations supposed to ensure better protection to American consumers does not seem to be of much significance if those experienced inspectors with hands-on experience in policing the industry are to be believed. On the contrary the situation is likely to become worse because lot of trust is being placed on the industry for self inspection and self regulation. On one hand the inspection regime does not have adequate technical personnel to man the fast moving processing lines to do justice the spirit of safety inspection due to paucity of funds. On the other hand the industry is being allowed to to speed up production lines up to three birds a second to oblige their insatiable thirst for higher productivity and profitability. Here is a take on this emerging scenario in the US poultry industry which does not bode well for the future.

USDA's proposed rule to "modernize" the poultry inspection system would allow plants to speed the inspection line up to 175 birds per minute — that gives inspectors about a third of a second per bird to check for feces, tumors, defects, disease or other factors that could make consumers sick. (Read more on the rule and see what an animated version of one carcass per third of a second actually looks like here). Conventionally, plants could run poultry lines as fast as 140 carcasses per minute, but there were at least four FSIS inspectors on the line responsible for 35 birds each. Painter says that at the plant he's currently stationed at, which is participating in HIMP, the line was averaging up to 181 birds a minute with two plant-employed sorters and Painter at the end of the line. He says: "There's no humanly way possible two people can look inside 90 birds a minute." After the proposed modernization rule was published, USDA told the plant to cut its speed down to 175 birds per minute, Painter reports. Not that that makes much of a difference. "It's totally hands-off inspection," he told me. "Actually, it's not inspection, it's visualization. If you can't touch them, how can you inspect them? You can't even see inside the carcass." So, how can a plant meet basic food safety standards with less inspection? One way is dousing the poultry in chemicals. In fact, Painter told me that USDA encourages the use of chemicals. One chemical is called per acetic acid, an antimicrobial agent used to reduce the risk of food-borne pathogens salmonella and campylobacter. The problem is that after the carcasses are sprayed down with per acetic acid and then put in the chiller, depending on the chlorine concentration of the chiller, "it can be like having a bucket of bleach under your nose," Painter said. He said that it's not unusual to hear from poultry plant workers who say they're becoming ill after exposure to the chemical combination. "These chemicals keep getting pumped into the plant, but they don't increase ventilation," he said. Painter predicts that if current line speeds stay in place, he thinks plants will increase their reliance on chemicals to make up for inspection gaps. Painter said he'd "bet my last nickel on it." Tony Corbo, senior lobbyist for the food program at Food & Water Watch, said he and his colleagues suspect that poultry plants manipulate the levels of chemicals depending on when FSIS conducts salmonella testing. Testing kits are sent directly to the plant, not to the inspector, Corbo told me, so the plant gets a convenient heads-up. So, while USDA says that the new "modernized" inspection system is leading to reduced rates of salmonella, Corbo said plants can easily manipulate their systems to prepare for FSIS testing. He also noted that while industry says the chemical residue left on the poultry is fairly small, "I don't think anyone's doing any long-term testing to see if that's the case." In 2011, Corbo filed a Freedom of Information Act request to view data coming out of the HIMP plants. He found that plant-employed inspectors, as opposed to FSIS inspectors, where not upholding food safety standards. According to a Food & Water Watch news release, "the records show that bile, sores, scabs, feathers, and digestive tract tissue are often not being properly removed from chicken carcasses." Corbo said that the overwhelming majority of noncompliance reports coming from HIMP plants and filed by FSIS inspectors are for fecal contamination in the cavity of the bird. But if the FSIS inspector can only truly inspect a small fraction of the carcasses that speed by on the line each day, "we don't really know how many of those carcasses actually got into commerce," he said. "Essentially, the attitude of the industry is that chicken isn't something people eat raw…it has to be properly cooked," Corbo said. "They're saying it's really the responsibility of the consumer, which we think is ridiculous. The industry has a responsibility here too. …(With this proposed rule), we're essentially leaving it up to one (FSIS) inspector at the end of the line and chemicals to prevent food-borne illness from entering the food supply." Painter, who himself is struggling with health problems he believes stems from food tainted with salmonella or campylobacter, says he's not optimistic that there's enough opposition to stop the proposed modernization rule. His advice? "Wash it, clean it, cook it thoroughly." "I've worked for poultry prior to working for (USDA)," he said. "I'm not anti-industry…but we can't expect a plant to regulate itself when a dollar value is involved."

It is understandable that industry has to increase productivity very significantly to meet with the ever increasing demand of the consumers for chicken meat and products derived from it. But compromising the safety of these products, whatever be the excuse, cannot be condoned under any circumstances. Increased use of chemicals like per acetic acid and high levels of chlorine can be counter productive, besides being dangerous for the consumer as ell as the personnel working in the plant. Frustration experienced by the inspecting personnel is reflected in their advice to the consumers that they should not trust the industry and in stead take appropriate measures for cleaning and cooking the material at their home! The danger is magnified when it is realized that feces-contaminated poultry meat stored in kitchen refrigerators can pollute other food materials like fruits, vegetables, milk etc causing much more damage eventually.


Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Health pundits are becoming increasingly concerned that all efforts to rein in food industry from making high sugar products and persuading consumers to cut down on sugar consumption are proving to be ineffective during the past two decades. From time to time there have been strident voices advocating stringent action against food industry which is raking in billions of dollars by churning out such sugar sweetened products after realizing the weakness of humans to sweet tasting foods. Whether there is any unanimity or not on this issue, excess sugar intake has been unequivocally implicated in many diseases which debilitate human beings reducing the quality of life for millions, with mortality rate progressively climbing up! Here is the latest scientific documentation that seems to justify clamping down on the food industry through coercive policies to restrict added sugar in processed foods. 

"As currently formulated, Coke, Pepsi, and other sugar-based drinks are unsafe for regular human consumption," said CSPI executive director Michael F. Jacobson. "Like a slow-acting but ruthlessly efficient bio-weapon, sugar drinks cause obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. The FDA should require the beverage industry to re-engineer their sugary products over several years, making them safer for people to consume, and less conducive to disease." In a 54-page regulatory petition filed today with the FDA, CSPI details the substantial scientific evidence that added sugars, especially in drinks, causes weight gain, obesity, and chronic diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and gout. In particular, a growing number of clinical trials have found that people who are assigned to drink sugary beverages gain more weight than those assigned to drink sugar-free beverages. Other clinical studies found that high-sugar diets increase triglycerides, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and liver fat. "If one were trying to ensure high rates of obesity, diabetes, or heart disease in a population, one would feed the population large doses of sugary drinks," said Walter Willett, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health. "The evidence is so strong that it is essential that FDA use its authority to make sugary drinks safer." Willett is one of 41 leading scientists and physicians who signed a letter to FDA commissioner Margaret Hamburg in support of the petition. Willett and his colleagues have conducted epidemiology studies that strongly link consumption of sugary drinks to obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and gout. Soda and other sugar drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet.Americans, on average, consume between 18 and 23 teaspoons—about 300 to 400 calories worth—of added sugars per day. Teens and young adults consume half again more than the average. About one-fifth of adolescents aged 12 to 18 consume at least 25 percent of their calories from added sugars, according to the government's 2007-2008 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. About 14 million people of all ages consume more than one-third of their calories in the form of added sugars. The FDA classifies high-fructose corn syrup, sucrose, and other sugars as "generally recognized as safe," or "GRAS" in agency parlance. To be GRAS, there must be a scientific consensus that the ingredient is safe at the levels consumed. CSPI's petition contends that the current scientific consensus is that added sugars are unsafe at the levels consumed. The petition asks the FDA to determine what level of added sugars would be safe for use in beverages, and to require those limits to be phased in over several years. The petition did not propose a specific safe level, but notes that several health agencies identified two-and-a-half teaspoons (10 grams) as a reasonable limit in a healthier drink. In 1982 and again in 1988, the FDA committed to undertake a new safety determination if sugar consumption increased, or if new scientific evidence indicated a public health hazard. Both of those conditions have been met, which CSPI says obligates the FDA to act".

If there is a convincing perception that sugar including High Fructose Corn Syrup is becoming a public hazard, governments in any responsible country is duty bound to take pro-active steps to protect its citizens from the consequences of such practices of the industry. While the evidence is clear regarding the ill effects of sugar, what is lacking is the will to restrain the organized industry which seems to have a vice-like grip on the governing class in most of the countries where it has predominance! One cannot but agree with the suggestions in the above critique that upper limits for sugar in foods and beverages must be enforced sooner than later.



Antibiotic resistance developed by many disease causing microorganisms is an area of intense concern to medical community as well as food scientists. Whether such resistance is caused by indiscriminate use of antibiotics by the physicians even for small ailments and virus related illnesses or wide scale deployment of antibiotics by the meat and poultry industry during raising of the animals is a matter of debate and consensus still eludes the humanity. May be the bacterial species are continuously morphing due to mutation into more potent creatures capable of overcoming the effectiveness of many antibiotics commonly used to day. It is well recognized that prevention is far more preferable to curing a disease and there are a number technologies man has invented that can kill these predatory vectors. There are technologies based on heat, chemicals, natural bacteria killers, salt, sugar, alcohol, ionizing radiation, infrared radiation, ultraviolet light, blue light, super freezing, etc each with its own strength and weakness. Here comes another tool to annihilate bacteria based on physical principles which appears to be promising and some details are given below. 

Whether it's in hospitals, restaurant kitchens or our homes, harmful bacteria such as E.coli are a constant concern. Making matters worse is the fact that such bacteria are increasingly developing a resistance to antibiotics. This has led to a number of research projects, which have utilized things such as blue light, cold plasma and ozone to kill germs. One of the latest non-antibiotic bacteria-slayers is a hydrogel developed by IBM Research and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology in Singapore. The hydrogel consists of water (over 90 percent of its composition), along with special polymers. When heated to body temperature, these polymers' molecules link together like the teeth of a zipper, forming chains that give the substance its malleable, gelatinous consistency. The gel is non-toxic, water-soluble, biodegradable, and maintains a positive charge. That last point is particularly important, as the outer membranes of bacteria carry a negative charge. As a result, when the hydrogel is applied to an antibiotic-resistant bacterial biofilm, the bacteria are drawn to the gel, which then kills them by rupturing their membranes. Because it's a physical attack, the bacteria are unable to develop a resistance to the hydrogel. Additionally, the gel doesn't harm healthy body cells, and sticks around on surfaces longer than fast-evaporating ethanol-based solutions such as hand gels. It is hoped that once fully developed and approved, the hydrogel could be used in applications such as wound-healing creams and injections, or implant and catheter coatings. More information is available in the video below.

Though it appears clean and easy to use, its limitation is that the same can be used probably in hospitals to treat wounds in a more efficient way and sterilize surgical instruments and surfaces. The innovators must explore the possibility of using these gels for sterilizing food processing equipment and surfaces that come in contact with bare foods during processing. Food industry, especially, the meat and poultry industry is facing enormous problems in pre-empting contamination of carcasses and processed frozen and refrigerated products by deadly bugs like Salmonella, E.coli and Campylobacter and the hydrogel, if edible in nature, can be considered for use by this much stressed industry.


Tuesday, February 19, 2013


Man is always concerned about his survival and comfort while there are trillions of other living creatures who co-habit with him, struggling to share some of the very same food available in nature. It is true that as per Darwin's theory ( or was it that of Herbert Spencer?), fittest among the "animals" survive for long and probably man fits into the description of the "fittest" on earth, at least with intelligent resources far superior to others! But non-human living creatures are not about to give up and the most illustrative example is the group comprising microorganisms, some of which are slowly outpacing human beings in accessing foods for them selves, harming the latter in the process. The pathogenic molds, bacteria, virus and others cause a host of diseases through infecting the foods eaten by man and their toxins, both endogenic and exogenic are responsible to many illness and mortality during the last hundreds of years of human history. Ingenious as he is, man has been coming up continuously with newer weapons and tools to outsmart most of the pathogens and to day one should be proud of the achievements of scientists in this area of intense concern. To the armory of weapons that fight bugs, one more new technology is being added in the form of "superfreez" technology which is reported to have the capability to stun and destroy one of the most dangerous microbes encountered by the chicken industry, Campylobacter and here is report on the same. 

'FOOD safety experts plan to "superfreeze" chickens to halt the rise of campylobacter food poisoning. The Food Standards Agency is currently looking into a procedure which involves exposing the surface of slaughtered chickens to extreme cold, known as rapid surface chilling. The radical process is currently being considered to help curb the rampant levels of the food poisoning bacteria commonly found in uncooked poultry products. Around two-thirds of fresh, raw chicken sold by retailers is believed to be contaminated with campylobacter, which can cause sever stomach upsets. The FSA aims to reduce the proportion of birds in the highest category of contamination at UK poultry houses from 27 per cent to 10 per cent by 2015. Dr Jacqui McElhiney, policy adviser on food-borne disease at the FSA in Scotland, said: "This process acts to temporarily cool only the very outer surface of the chicken carcass without freezing the meat itself. It involves exposing the surface of poultry carcasses to very low temperatures for a very short time, which reduces the numbers of campylobacter bacteria on the surface, as they are sensitive to an extreme cold shock treatment of this type." The infection, known as a zoonose, a bacteria transmitted from animals to humans by consuming contaminated foodstuffs, has risen steadily in Europe in recent years. While levels of salmonella have significantly declined over the last five years, campylobacter infections have risen. In 2010 alone, numbers rose by 6.7 per cent, with 212,064 cases across Europe and 266 deaths. Although it performed well during trials, the "superfreezing" procedure has yet to be approved by the European Union and its legality is still to be determined, said McElhiney".

While one has to laud the feat of the scientists who developed this innovative simple technique, in absence of its approval by the competent safety management agencies in Europe or the US, there may be reluctance by the industry to adopt this technology on a wide scale. Probably the world seems to be too much obsessed with Salmonella and hence the relatively lower priority for Campylobacter threat perception. But if recent statistical figures about incidences of Campylobacter related food poisoning episodes are taken into consideration, it is a question of time before world will have to deal with the impending consequences of wide scale food poisoning due to Campylobacter infection. Sooner the new "superfreeze" technology is evaluated for its effectiveness and reliability in over coming this type of infection, better it will be for the chicken consumers around the world.


Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Whether one can call it a miracle finding or just the result of an academic study, recent reports from a group of scientists from Singapore that Myostatin, an integral part of muscle activity, can play a vital role in enabling the body to go for a fat-burning mode of energy generation, will have some far reaching implications. According to this group if Myostatin synthesis can be some what blocked or slowed down, muscle loss encountered during the aging process can be arrested enabling the humans to live longer. Here is the interesting hypotheses being put forward with a promise that further studies in this area can result in development of Myostatin blockers to achieve the desired result.

"Associate Professor Ravi Kambadur and his team from NTU's School of Biological Sciences found that a protein called Myostatin, which controls muscle cell growth, is responsible for initiating muscle loss. When excess levels of Myostatin is bound to a muscle cell, it induces heavy loss of mitochondria (the part of the cell responsible for energy production that keeps a cell alive), which in turn causes the muscle cell to waste or lose muscle tissue (atrophy) due to the 'lack of energy'. Under normal healthy conditions, small loss of Mitochondria is needed for the regeneration of new cells, but when a patient is suffering from chronic diseases or is bedridden (and muscles are not used often), this process is disrupted due to high levels of myostatin which results in increased mitochondrial loss and muscle atrophy. Prof Kambadur said recent studies have shown that extreme muscle wasting can lead to death. "For example, about 30 per cent of cancer patients die not because of cancer, but because of muscle loss also known as cachexia," said Prof Kambadur. "When someone is suffering from a chronic disease and doesn't eat enough, the body starts to generate energy by breaking down muscle proteins and that is the reason we see a lot of muscle wasting under chronic disease conditions," he added. "Over the years, our research has revealed that this type of muscle wasting is initiated by excess levels of myostatin in the body. If we block myostatin from binding to cells, then muscles won't waste away and we can then mitigate the effects of ageing and chronic diseases," he added. Apart from regulating the growth and loss of muscle, myostatin also regulates whether the body will burn fat or carbohydrates during fasting and meal times. Blocking myostatin keeps the body in "fat-burning mode" and promotes muscle growth at the same time - which could potentially make obesity a thing of the past. Because obesity is one of the main causes of the most common form of diabetes, Type 2 diabetes, blocking myostatin could also treat diabetes. In the US, 90 to 95 per cent of diabetes cases are Type 2, as reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. According to Singapore's Health Promotion Board, diabetes is among the top ten causes of death locally. In 2010, it was reported by Ministry of Health that 11.3 per cent of the Singaporean adults aged 18 to 69 years are affected by diabetes while 10.8 percent were obese. "In near future, myostatin blockers could increase fat utilisation in the body and give you the benefits of exercise, without actually doing intense physical activity," Prof Kambadur explained."
Obesity control is another area of concern and Myostatin blocking can indeed persuade the body to burn more fat, those struggling to control or lose their body weight will have great hope for overcoming this scourge. Similarly diabetes patients, most of whom are obese or over weight, may also be benefited by possible Myostatin blockers for which search is still on. An uncertainty that can still pre-empt the use of such blockers is whether such a treatment regime can have any deleterious consequences vis-a-vis other metabolic functions of the body. The above studies have given a ray of hope to millions of obese as well as diabetic patients to restore their health through this possible route. Losing weight without undergoing rigorous exercise is also an attractive proposition to many people including sick and convalescing patients. Also the old and aged people will stand to benefit by recourse to possible Myostatin blocker which is supposed to prevent undesirable muscle loss during the aging process cutting short their productive lives.  



Street vendors do play a role in filling a gap for food service at low cost. No matter how much they are being denigrated, there is a substantial loyal followers appreciating their service. The organized catering industry to day is to be faulted for the greed their members are showing in escalating the prices at which foods are offered by them within the four walls of their facilities. In a democratic country adopting the liberalized economic regime, considered pro-business, there is no place for price control on consumer products as the atmosphere is one of competition. While processed food industry is shackled by the mandatory MRP declaration provision on the front of the pack, there is no such compulsion for catering industry to pre-inform the customers about the price tags for various preparations served inside their restaurant. Naturally there is a substantial segment of population not willing or affording to pay the extortionist prices by the organized restaurants which has opened up a fertile area of business for the low end street vendors. Here is a typical story coming from a small time town in Karnataka, located a few kilometers from Bangalore and one has to see to believe how vibrant and appreciative such small scale food vending can be, besides being a friend of low middle class citizens in the country!     

"Speaking about health factor, Singh said the oil is changed for various kinds of fritters. "The health of the customers is important for us too," he added. "We put the spices into a heated vessel. The raw fritters are dipped into the spices and immediately fried in oil." "Such snacks are in great demand in Uttar Pradesh and the neighbouring states. But we are glad to find such demand for the fritters here too. It is a heartening for us since we are dependent on such customers for our livelihood," he explained. Manohar, a college student, said that part of the lure is that their native places do not have big hotels, and because such snacks are usually not prepared by small hotels and eateries. "There is almost no place were family members can gather and spend hours, chatting over a plate of eatables. We therefore depend on the roadside 'cooks' who prepare the fritters right in front of us and hand them to us in minutes," he said. "I join my friends outside the Junior College in the evenings to savour the snacks prepared on pushcarts. On weekends my family members too come to the spots to try out some new item." Siddaraju, a private company employee, concurred. "All hotels in our town close by 8 pm. Very often no food is available at any eatery. We necessarily have to approach the cooks with pushcarts, to get idlis, puris, spiced rice (chitranna), tamarind rice (puliyogare) and egg fried rice," he said. "Such food has become a part of the lifestyle of our City," he said. ( Quoted from Deccan Herald, January 28, 2013)

There may be many problems associated with street vending system including suspect hygienic environment and these problems, some real, some alleged, can be overcome if there is a sincere attempt by the local civic authorities to address them. In a recent incidence there was a report that one street vendor was killed by the ruthless police who live on the "moolah" extracted from these poor vendors! In many large cities in India, the street vending system is vanishing fast due to narrow roads, congested markets, police harassment, unsympathetic attitude of the civic authorities and many other factors. What is not understood is why in India street vending cannot be modernized when even in a country like the US Food Trucks, a glorified version of street vending is taking deep roots across major cities in there? Governments at Delhi as well as in the states have a social, economic and moral responsibility to address the issues concerned with street vending practices.


During the last one decade there was a dramatic spurt in the development and marketing of gluten free processed foods, especially in the US and Europe. Such foods cater to a special segment of the consumers, viz those afflicted with Celiac disease which can be quite serious in terms daily discomfort and low quality of life such affected persons live through. If the volume of business achieved by this special food industry is any indication, Gluten allergic population must be expanding at an alarming rate! How ever the ground reality is some what different. Many consumers seem to be believing that that have gluten allergy which hampers their growth and over all health. This has created a new category of consumers who do not have Celiac disease but still may have non-Celiac Gluten allergy, unexplainable by to day's knowledge. If gluten free foods have become popular with many consumers it is primarily due to this belief. No one can say that food industry is not happy with such a development! Here is a commentary on this new phenomenon that is driving the gluten-free food products industry.

"Many advocates of gluten-free diets warn that non-celiac gluten sensitivity is a wide, unseen epidemic undermining the health of millions of people. They believe that avoiding gluten — a composite of starch and proteins found in certain grassy grains like wheat, barley and rye — gives them added energy and alleviates chronic ills. Oats, while gluten-free, are also avoided, because they are often contaminated with gluten-containing grains. Others see the popularity of gluten-free foods as just the latest fad, destined to fade like the Atkins diet and avoidance of carbohydrates a decade ago. Indeed, Americans are buying billions of dollars of food labeled gluten-free each year. And celebrities like Miley Cyrus, the actress and singer, have urged fans to give up gluten. "The change in your skin, physical and mental health is amazing!" she posted on Twitter in April. For celiac experts, the anti-gluten zeal is a dramatic turnaround; not many years ago, they were struggling to raise awareness among doctors that bread and pasta can make some people very sick. Now they are voicing caution, tamping down the wilder claims about gluten-free diets. "It is not a healthier diet for those who don't need it," Dr. Guandalini said. These people "are following a fad, essentially." He added, "And that's my biased opinion." Nonetheless, Dr. Guandalini agrees that some people who do not have celiac receive a genuine health boost from a gluten-free diet. He just cannot say how many. As with most nutrition controversies, most everyone agrees on the underlying facts. Wheat entered the human diet only about 10,000 years ago, with the advent of agriculture".

If the main stream population starts patronizing gluten free foods in increasing numbers, a question mark may rise regarding the future of grains like wheat, barley, rye etc. After all wheat based processed foods constitute a substantial portion of the products available in the market and probably it is the "bread and butter" of the food business. Probably such a situation may spur development of wheat varieties devoid of gluten or with gluten modified suitably making them acceptable universally. The ancient Einkorn grain, considered the predecessor of to day's wheat has gluten like protein which is not reported to be as injurious as normal wheat though it is not yet recommended as a safe substitute to those with gluten sensitivity. There appears to be a revival of interest in Einkorn recently because of the above potential. However if gluten free food popularity is just a fad, it is bound to fade sooner or later.


Monday, February 11, 2013


Food-borne infection episodes are becoming more and more conspicuous by their recurring occurrence in countries like the US and fast detection and identification of the contaminant is a high priority area of interest to the industry. Conventional culture tests take at least 24 hours though in many cases it may stretch to 3-5 days. As the volume of production is increasing day by day due to growing demand for processed foods, it is next to impossible for the industry to organize culture based diagnosis and this is pushing the scientific community to evolve quick tests as a part of the safety protocol for helping the industry. There are a few quick tests available now which can give results under an hour and these are being increasingly deployed in the industry. But there is no unanimity whether such quick tests can be solely depended upon and the conventional culture tests can be dispensed with totally. Here is a critique on this vital issue which needs to be resoled quickly for a universal regime acceptable o all the stake holders.  

"Tests for food-borne pathogens in which a culture is not grown in a lab may be necessary for produce companies, but they can't replace traditional culture tests, industry leaders and government officials say. Non-culture diagnostic tests have been around since the early 1980s, said David Gombas, senior vice president of food safety and technology for the Washington D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association. But there has been a recent push, Gombas said, to use them to replace culture tests that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and other agencies and organizations rely on to accurately diagnose cases of salmonella, E. coli and other food-borne illnesses. That trend was highlighted in a recent article in Scientific America magazine, which found that many clinics and state-run labs are turning to nonculture tests, which are faster than culture tests. They're faster, but are they better? "Right now, the answer is no," Gombas said. "CDC, FDA, and those in the produce industry I talk to — they want a live bug." A live bug is the result of growing a culture, which can take 18 to 24 hours in a lab, Gombas said. Some of the rapid non culture tests, by contrast, can be done in 20 minutes. For many fresh produce companies, like Earthbound Farm, San Juan Batista, Calif., rapid non culture tests are a necessity, said Will Daniels, Earthbound's senior vice president of operations and organic integrity. "Without them, we wouldn't be able to do what we do," Daniels said. "A culture is a three to five day process. We can't fit that into our system." Earthbound Farms tests every product it ships. If it relied on culture tests and had to wait three to five days to ship, it would need to have five to six days' worth of inventory on hand at any given time, Daniels said."

There is point in the argument of the industry that it cannot hold on to huge stocks of foods in their warehouses, waiting for the results of culture tests to arrive before releasing into the market and naturally inventory management can be a nightmare, especially for large manufacturers, affecting their economical viability. At the same time consumer safety is sacrosanct and cannot be compromised at any cost. Probably safety scientists may have to evolve some sort of empirical correlation between quick testing regime and frequency of culture testing to make sure that the system s absolutely reliable. It must be admitted that quick tests are possible only for known pathogens and as and when new bugs arrive, culture tests are inevitable to identify them. Considering the enormity of the problem, food industry should not rely entirely on modern quick tests and do way with conventional diagnostic tools!


Saturday, February 9, 2013


With sodium assuming the villainous role in human diet, attempts are continuously being made to reduce its level in thousands of processed food products marketed every where in the world. Besides national and international agencies concerned with the undesirable effect of too much salt in the diet on human health are tirelessly carrying out campaigns to educate and persuade the consumers to cut down drastically on salt consumption. Food industry in many countries are trying to lower the salt concentration in their products through research and development efforts. Though salt provides the typical taste and flavor of many foods, its reduction to low levels can hurt the sensory quality of the final products. Salt has also functional properties such as preservation, textural modification and flavor enhancement in thousands of processed products. Against such a background industry is bound to be some what reluctant to reduce salt levels that can adversely affect the characteristics of their branded products. Of all foods Cheese presents the biggest challenge for the Dairy industry in reducing salt in products like Cheddar cheese, well liked and consumed by millions regularly as a part of their diet. Recent attempts in developing low salt Cheese seem to be successful if the claims of a group of scientists in the US are to be believed. Here is a take on this interesting development. 

'Low-sodium cheddar cheeses have been marketed for decades. But they "account for only a trivial percentage of total retail sales of cheddar cheese," the National Dairy Council said in comments earlier this year to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which is seeking to reduce Americans' salt consumption.  "The lack of consumer acceptance is indicated by the lack of market growth of the low-sodium cheese category," the dairy council wrote. But it's not for a lack of trying by cheese makers. "Low is hard," Schoenfuss said. Salt acts not only to flavor cheese, but to preserve and give structure to it. "Cheese is basically this biochemistry thing going on, and salt helps control that," Schoenfuss said. Under federal rules, to qualify for a "reduced sodium" claim, a cheese maker must cut sodium chloride by 25 percent. A "low-sodium" claim, rare commercially, often entails a significantly greater reduction, 55 percent in cheddar cheese. Schoenfuss' lab reduced sodium chloride in cheddar cheese by 53 percent, replacing the mineral in different trials with calcium chloride, magnesium chloride and potassium chloride. The first two were losers, leading to cheddar that was metallic-tasting and soapy. Potassium chloride, a sodium chloride replacement, can also impart a metallic or bitter flavor. But with the cheese cultures and production process Schoenfuss used - combined with the right amount of potassium chloride - the metallic flavor wasn't there.  An independent taste panel found the potassium chloride cheddar not appreciably more bitter than a control cheddar made the conventional way, Schoenfuss' lab concluded.  "Potassium chloride can be used successfully to achieve large reductions in sodium when replacing a portion of the (sodium chloride) in cheddar cheese," said a study published in the Journal of Dairy Science by Schoenfuss and four UM colleagues." 

Potassium chloride, per se does not possess the typical taste associated with common salt, Sodium Chloride but it has been tried in many products to lower the sodium levels when blends of these two salts are used in different combinations. The findings by the above group that sodium level can be reduced by 53% in Cheddar cheese with least effect on the desirable qualities of this product, are indeed noteworthy and if accepted by the Dairy industry can have significant impact on the health of populations in Europe, America, Canada, Australia etc where cheese is consumed in high quantities. One note of caution that must be kept in mind is whether such high levels of Potassium can have any adverse effect on people with high blood pressure, taking some medications regularly to control the same as there are reports that high potassium can lead to heart attacks some times in some people.


Friday, February 8, 2013


If there is a perceptible change in dietary habits where people are increasingly shifting to non-animal based foods, one of the most critical factors has been their perception regarding the safety of meat products offered in the market place by the meat products industry with indifference to the well being of the consumer. There are thousands of reports that indict meat products like various cuts, minced products and ground meat items, the main culprit being the virulent E.coli mostly originating from fecal sources. Slaughter house facilities which ought to be clean, hygienic and safe are not up to the desired standards while the handling personnel with potential as carriers of pathogens are not as clean as they should be. While in tropical countries where the primitive slaughtering practices are still in vogue, food poisoning episodes from meat are far and few, probably because they are cooked properly and the consumers have better immunity to these bugs. Here is a commentary on the situation obtaining in a country like the US where food poisoning episodes from beef products are assuming dangerous proportion. 

"There have been a number of reports of people falling ill from fecal contamination in beef products. E. coli is a group of bacteria that is commonly found in the lower intestine of warm blooded organisms and is known to cause diarrhea, dehydration and in most severe cases kidney failure and death in those with weak immune systems (children, the elderly). E. coli bacteria is normally present on surface of beef in which cooking from 145 F-160 F, depending on how the meat is processed will effectively kill bacteria. However many beef producers mechanically tenderize their beef to produce a tender cut of beef as well as to produce ground beef. The process of mechanically tenderizing meat cuts through the connective tissue in the meat and brings bacteria from the surface to the inner parts of the meat thoroughly infecting the meat with E. coli."

It is still a mystery as to why the beef industry is not using the well proven irradiation technology or other newer technologies that can effectively decontaminate the surface area of the carcass adequately which can pre-empt further contamination of the products during processing. Some critics seem to be pointing their fingers to fresh produce like leafy vegetables for most of the infection in meat, forgetting that the very same slaughter house waste and effluents let out to growing fields are responsible for vegetable contamination! There is an urgent need to over haul the abattoirs to prevent pollution of waters nearby as well as to ensure carcasses are decontaminated thoroughly before processing them into finished products. While safety agencies can contribute to better safety through more frequent and efficient inspections, there has to be more introspection on the part of meat industry regarding their responsibility to the well being of the consumers who are their "bread and butter' partners!



Knowing fully well that high consumption of sugar is dangerous for human beings, many policy makers world over are breaking their head to evolve suitable steps to curb its consumption. Unfortunately voluntary action, supposed to be taken by the high-profit tuned food processing industry is a non-starter and if any thing this industry seems to have found a friend in sugar to rake in more money. According to some critics sugar must be regulated like alcohol and tobacco denying or restricting easy access for every body. Here is a passionate demand from a well recognized campaigner against bad quality foods, especially sugar worth listening to. 

Public reception of Lustig's new book, Fat Chance, will likely be just as divided. The book repeats and expands on the main point of contention in the sugar wars: whether our bodies treat all calories the same. The old guard says yes: A calorie is a calorie; steak or soda, doesn't matter. Eat more calories than you burn, you'll gain weight. Lustig believes that our bodies react to some types of calories differently than others. Specifically he believes that sugar calories alter our biochemistry to make us hungry and lazy in ways that fat and protein calories do not. As a result, he says, the ubiquity of sugar in the Western diet is making Americans sick, obese, and bankrupt. But Lustig does not stick to explaining his reasoning and raising public-health awareness. "Education has not worked. Labeling has not worked. And they're not going to work," he told me in his characteristically emphatic way. "Education hasn't worked for any addictive substance." According to Lustig, we need to accept that America's obesity problem can't be fixed by a Puritan resolution by each individual to eat fewer calories. To fix America's obesity problem, we need a regulatory framework for selling and serving less sugar-laden food.

When it is realized and further confirmed through scientific studies that sugar is an addictive working at the brain level, more caution is needed to break this vicious hold what ever it may take to accomplish the same. Whether one can make a differentiation between sugar calories and calories derived from fat and proteins is a subject matter of debate, it has been shown conclusively that excess sugar definitely contribute obesity and other life style disorders. Similarly the surge in Diabetes among  populations in the wealthy segment in almost all countries is sought to be linked to excess sugar consumption. It is known that availability of sugar rich processed foods at relatively low cost in some countries drives their consumption upwards and more than what is consumed at home gets into the body through the industrially produced sugar rich products. Naturally the author has a case in demanding for stringent action against the industry through punitive regulatory steps. knowledgeable pundits are predicting that it is a question of time before the food industry is saddled with law suits claiming billions of dollars as reparation by the obese and health compromised people, if action is not taken, NOW and HERE!


Thursday, February 7, 2013


Alcohol drinks are very popular world over because of their intoxicating power when alcohol gets across to the blood stream. While the role of alcohol in affecting the health is debated for centuries, the present thinking seems to be that when moderately taken it can be advantageous for health. But alcohol, after all is an addictive and it becomes humanly impossible to control the intake, pushing many human beings into the category of habitual drunkards! Whether it is Wine, Beer or Vodka, effective level of alcohol that gets into the blood depends on how much of the drink is consumed. While the strong spirits like Vodka or Whiskey or Gin or Rum is taken with water or soda, lighter ones such as wine and beer are ingested straight being low in alcohol content. Alcohol is never considered as a source of calories by those who consume it regularly though it has a calorie content of 7 kC per gm but when these drinks are mixed with cold soda the gross calorie intake becomes quite significant. Another angle to alcohol drinking is whether it is taken on empty stomach or along with solid foods. According to some studies those ingesting alcohol admixed with diet soda might run the risk of getting inebriated faster and the alcohol appears in the breath in higher quantities compared to those who take it with normal soda. Here is a take on this controversial research which has been challenged by some scientists.    

"Cutting calories with diet soda may seem like a good idea -- as long as it's not at a bar. A new study released in the journal Alcoholism suggests that cutting alcoholic drinks with diet soda makes them more potent than using their full-calorie counterparts. Specifically, researchers found that mixing alcohol with diet (sugar-free) soft drinks resulted in a higher breath alcohol content than mixing alcohol with a regular (sugar-sweetened) soft drink. "The results were surprising," said Cecile A. Marczinski, assistant professor in the department of psychological science at Northern Kentucky University, and one of the lead investigators of the study. Researchers served one of three beverages: vodka added to a diet drink, vodka added to a regular drink or a regular soft drink with a vodka scent added so that participants would believe it was an alcoholic beverage. They then sat back while the subjects enjoyed their cocktails. Those participants drinking the vodka-diet drink cocktails had a significantly higher breath alcohol content and had the highest degree of behavioral impairment among the groups, the study found. "We are talking about significant differences here," Marczinski said. "Participants who drank diet soda with vodka had blood alcohol contents as high as 18 percent more than when sugar-containing mixers were used." The theory behind this is that sugar-containing drinks stimulate the stomach much like a meal does. Having some food in your stomach delays stomach emptying, thus delaying absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream. The result is that drinkers get a less-potent hit of alcohol in their systems after drinking. "This is why southern European countries have lower rates of alcoholism despite their increased alcohol intake," said Petros Levounis, director of the Addiction Institute of New York, who was not involved in the study. "They always drink while eating."

Traditionally in many countries alcoholic drinks are taken with light foods like snacks and even if water is used as a diluent, presence of food in the stomach makes the process of absorption slower, taking quite some time before presence of alcohol is detectable in the breath. Also it is a common perception among those drinking alcohol that without food accompaniment alcohol can damage the stomach membrane to varying extent. What ever be the truth, one thing is sure and that is not to take alcohol with out any food accompaniment. Also true is that the pace at which alcohol drink is consumed must be slow to reduce its impact on the metabolic system. Fortunately alcohol drinks are served usually along with foods in most bars and invariably food intake is more on such occasions!