Sunday, February 23, 2014


Food Industry is suspected to be nurturing a strategy that involves addition of more and more sugar to their manufactured products to exploit the weakness of consumers to these two dangerous food ingredients. It is difficult to know whether really it is doing without understanding the fearful consequences this strategy or just pursuing the goal of achieving increased profits by "any means". Consumers must realize this all pervading dangers in the market place and shun foods containing high sugar or high salt levels. Here is a take on a report which highlights the current scenario vis-a-vis these two food ingredients.

"The food industry is adding more and more sugar to food which consumers are largely unaware of as it is mostly hidden, warns research. Leading health experts from across the globe have united to tackle and unmask hidden sugar so consumers can make informed decisions about what they eat and drink. Added sugar has no nutritional value, gives no feeling of fullness and is acknowledged to be a major factor in causing obesity and diabetes worldwide. "A can of Coca Cola has a staggering nine teaspoons of sugar (35g). Similar amounts can be found in the flavoured water, yogurts, canned soup, ready meals and even bread," said the report published in journal The Conversation. "Like the model of salt reduction pioneered by Consensus Action on Salt and Health (CASH) in the UK, a similar programme can gradually reduce the amount of added sugar in food and drink products," suggested Graham MacGregor, chairman, CASH. The CASH has been successful in compelling companies and manufacturers to add less salt to products over a period of time by setting targets for the food industry and mobilising public information. There are several parallels between salt and sugar. Like salt, most of the sugar we consume is hidden in processed food and soft drinks. There are also specific taste receptors for sugar, which if sugar intake is gradually reduced become more sensitive. So over time, we don't notice that sugar levels have gone down, said the research". 

Though many governments are aware of the above trend,very few have the will and determination to discipline the run away industry in its race for more and more profits at consumers' risk!



What percentage of urban population know any thing about the sources of food they eat day in and day out? Hardly a few. A novel program launched by a Farm in the UK to do this has been reported recently. Here is a take on this new approach on consumer education.

"A former 3,750 sq ft potato store at Frogmary Green Farm, South Petherton, in South Somerset, has been completely transformed into the Cook It @ Frogmary cookery school – a sleek, modern complex of teaching kitchen and conference facilities. The ethos of the new business is to focus on using fresh, seasonal produce sourced from local farmers – all of whom were at the recent launch party where they rubbed shoulders with the great and the good from the farming world, both locally and nationally, to raise a glass to Nick and Claire Bragg's latest venture. Over the past ten years, the award-winning farming couple have welcomed hundreds of school children to see how RSPCA-approved Freedom Food chickens are produced at Frogmary Green, as well as thousands of visitors during Open Farm Sunday events as part of their commitment to helping people understand where their food comes from".

Similar programs must be started by big and medium farms abutting urban areas in many countries to benefit millions of students and citizens through such periodic exposition. This is one of the best education programs which cannot be done within the four walls of a class room. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


It is a dream come true for millions of consumers if they can "divine" the quality of a product on the isles of supermarkets and make the right choice before zeroing on their purchase! After all each and every food contains hundreds of ingredients/components and it is not easy to discern them through any known hand held gadget. But if recent reports are to be believed the smart phone many people own now can be the tool with which a consumer can get an inkling of the nature of food he is buying. All one has to do is to buy a hand held spectrometer with which the food can be scanned and the result communicated to a cloud based service through the smart phone to get an idea about the nature of the product. The service provider has a vast storage of data on thousands of products and by comparing the data provided through the phone it is simple to understand the product scanned. Here is a take on this exciting development which may herald the arrival of a consumer friendly infra red spectrometer by the end of this year.

"Hoffmann's company, TellSpec, is developing a laser-driven, handheld spectrometer that analyzes the food on your plate, in your fridge, or at the supermarket for chemicals, gluten, dyes, allergens, neurotoxins, moulds and bacteria. The scanner sends its findings through your smartphone to TellSpec's cloud-based service, which examines your results and compares them to its pre-existing food database. The service then tells you what that scan found in your food, and what other scans found in the same food.A single scan, probing only the surface of your apple or mashed potatoes, might not locate every ingredient and additive. But as TellSpec accumulates data from all its users, it will be able to warn of numerous potential problems — a boon to the allergic, the weight-conscious, vegetarians and others on selective diets, and anyone concerned about what they're eating".

While the above gadget is still in the process of development, it seems to have raised enormous interest among the consumer community and there is no doubt this will empower the consumer to decipher the nature of thousands of products on the isles of the super markets and call the bluff of those manufacturers who wrongly label products to attract customers. If this innovation really materializes in the form of a simple and reliable tool as being expected, the food industry will have to be more transparent in its labeling practices, lest it will be caught red handed for over claiming and suppressing facts.   


Monday, February 17, 2014


Soldiers fighting for their country need to be fed with nutritional and tasty foods if their morale and physical dynamics are to be maintained. Canned foods of yesteryear provided a good source of many foods which can be preserved for 1-2 years easily and even to day these foods are served in remote areas where there is difficult access for the supply chain. Emergence of technologies like irradiation, vacuum packing, high pressure processing etc do provide alternative choices but their compatibility with some foods raise issues of quality and safety. Against such a situation comes the news that a technology has been developed by the Defense Forces scientists in the Us for preserving Pizza for 3 years without seriously affecting its sensory qualities and with assured safety. Here is a take on this latest development in food preservation technology scenario.

"Researchers at a U.S. military lab are getting closer to perfecting what some call "the holy grail" of food prepared for soldiers: a pizza that stays edible for up to three years and does not require refrigeration or freezing, the Associated Press reports. "It pretty much tastes just like a typical pan pizza that you would make at home and take out of the oven or the toaster oven," Jill Bates, who runs the U.S. Army Natick Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center in Natick, Massachusetts, told the AP. "The only thing missing from that experience would be it's not hot when you eat it. It's room temperature." Soldiers have reportedly been requesting a pizza version of the "meals ready to eat", or MREs, ever since the products replaced canned food over three decades ago for soldiers in combat zones."

Though the technical details provided by these scientists are scanty, there is no basis to doubt their claims regarding the soundness of the new technology. But the acceptability of the product needs to be confirmed by field trials and it is the soldier who decides whether he gets the satisfaction of eating a standard pizza by eating the the new preserved version. In India also there is a dedicated Defense  research set up at Mysore which has a few technologies to its credit and one of them is a long life Roti which can be "preserved" for 6 months but the product does not seem to have found favor with army personnel on account of quality inadequacy. Similarly Government of India set up a most "modern" factory at Tundla near Agra about 5 decades ago to manufacture accelerated freeze dried meat for feeding the armed forces personnel. It is history as to how this plant was to be junked after the product failed to satisfy the jawans. It is true that lot of improvements have taken place during the last two decades but still the new version of pizza must be accepted unreservedly by the consumers if the technology has to be made commercially viable.


Tuesday, February 11, 2014


Pasteurization is an age old process using the principle that most pathogens perish at a temperature of about 60C and fluid milk was mrketed fir decades under chilled conditions after pasteurization. Emergence of sterilization process using temperatures beyond 100C practically eclipsed the pasteurization process though for short term preservation it is still  being used. High temperature treatment of most foods does cause some damage to their characteristic texture and flavor. Of course there are many alternate options to food processing industry for safeguarding the quality of foods which include use of chemical preservatives, controlled atmosphere storage, ionizing radiation, high pressure treatment etc and depending on the type of food to be sterilized industry deploys them to get optimum results. Though microwave energy is supposed to be clean and easily controllable, most processes involving use of microwave energy tend to be batch operations affecting the their productivity very significantly and industry always looks to mega scale processes, continuous in nature, for achieving better economic results. It is in this context the recent development of a semi-continuous microwave based pasteurization process is a welcome development. Here is a take on this new development which may be some what exciting to food scientists as well as the industry.       

"According to Tang, the 915 MHz microwave-assisted pasteurization process significantly improves upon traditional thermal pasteurization, offering food producers a more efficient means of making foods safe while retaining consumer appeal. After two to four minutes of heating the product to 194 F/90 C, which is below the boiling point of water, the numbers of pathogenic bacteria can be reduced a million-fold.
"We can control foodborne pathogens and viruses and provide high-quality products," said Tang. The process also allows traditionally frozen meals to be refrigerated instead of frozen, saving retailers and consumers significant energy costs. "We had some exciting early results. The quality of microwave pasteurized foods – specifically mollusks, shrimp and tofu – is substantially better than conventionally pasteurized foods," said Barbara Rasco, professor in WSU's School of Food Science and collaborator on the project. A shelf life exceeding one month at refrigeration temperatures has been achieved for several formulated food items, including stroganoffs, curries, burritos and hors d'oeuvres. Shyam Sablani, another WSU collaborator, is leading package development. Pasteurizing chilled meals using the new method preserves product quality more than commercial canning (sterilization) processes for shelf-stable foods. Traditional canning typically operates at 249 F/120 C or higher in order to kill the dangerous pathogen Clostridium botulinum; but the temperature, pressure and length of the canning process often degrades food quality, making it less acceptable to consumers, said Tang

According to the innovators, the process is capable of raising temperatures slightly beyond pasteurization but never above 100C, the boiling point of water. Since no significant positive pressure is developed within a closed packet containing the food, there is less likely to be any damage to its integrity due to this process. There are other issues which need to be sorted out before coming out with a commercially viable technology which include the type of packaging materials compatible with microwave radiation and their cost aspects, extent of leachables getting into the food, equipment cost etc. Eventually there will be a commercial technology emerging in not too distant a future and food industry can look fore ward for such a day. 


Thursday, February 6, 2014


A perplexing issue that haunts every Indian who visits or reside in the US is why the Indian food has not penetrated into the country like Mexican or Chinese foods? It is most unfortunate that many Indian restaurants that work in different parts of the US do not project the image of Indian foods adequately with their profile very low. If some catering experts are to be believed, this situation will definitely change in the coming years because Indian foods per se are better tasting with offering of vast varieties unlike limited range of foods offered by other ethnic food groups. Probably with consistent and consolidated efforts Indian foods may out perform others in a matter of a decade from now. Here is a take on this issue that may be a hot topic in the coming years.

"In all the predictions, the big mystery to me is Indian food.  It has the great spiciness of our much loved Mexican food. It has the variety and excitement of our much loved Italian food.  Indians are the third largest immigrant group (after Mexicans and Chinese) in the US and yet, aside from mid- to high-end sit down restaurants, it hasn't made great inroads. According to NPD's CREST®, our continuous foodservice tracker, Indian food is served about 0.1% of all visits to restaurants. How come Indian food isn't the next big thing? Just to get a sense of scale, I looked at CREST Great Britain where we track British consumers' use of restaurants. There, where Indian food has arguably moved to the main stream, (and, as a well understood post-drinking food) Indian food is served at 3% of all restaurant visits.  Sure, it doesn't sound like much but it's an index of about…hang on…carry the one….an index of about 2000 over the US number.  Our Advanced Analytics guys describe this as being "a whole heckuva lot more" than in the US. My neighborhood here at the NPD Foodservice Blog World Headquarters in the San Francisco Bay area is a melting pot of east and south Asians. As a result, we have an embarrassment of first rate Asian restaurants at the mid- to low-range.  Indian restaurants still account for less than 1% of all restaurants in the US."

One often wonders why some of the established hotel chains in the country are not taking a cue from this trend and invest in that country which will definitely pay off eventually. 
The emphasis has to shift from serving these foods to consumers of Indian origin to main stream Americans by suitably adapting the profiles of the products suitably without sacrificing the original features. Americans have proved to be people with open mind as reflected by the popularity of Chinese, Mexican and Italian foods and therefore high quality Indian foods made and served hygienically with ambient environment can also be expected to click in a big way. 


Wednesday, February 5, 2014


Will any parent like a soft drink which contains an intoxicating ingredient like ethyl alcohol offered to its children, though alcoholic beverages are sold in the open market to adult population in almost all countries? Alcohol is a dangerous substance that can affect the human health, like tobacco but world has not invented any mechanism to stop people from consuming it. The most practical way was to make it costlier year after year through increased fiscal levies though this does not deter those who "treasure" their drinks! On a similar way drugs or opiates including marijuana are not considered good for human health but till to date no country has been able to completely eliminate these substances from their countries. In fact many countries in the West are talking of legalizing the selling of some of these substances taking umbrage under the constitutional right of a citizen to consume what he or wants! Latest twist to this drama is the brazen attempts by a few food industry players in the US to use marijuana as an ingredient in snack products which, if reports are to be believed, has become an instant hit with youngsters and kids! Here is a take on this sordid development which needs to be condemned and resisted. 

"All day long, customers at LoDo Wellness Center, one of Colorado's new recreational marijuana stores, reach into the refrigerator and pull out tasty ways to get high. They buy sparkling peach and mandarin elixirs, watermelon Dew Drops, and sleek silver bags of chocolate truffles, each one packed with marijuana's potent punch. "The stuff just flies off the shelves," said Linda Andrews, the store's owner. As marijuana tiptoes further toward the legal mainstream, marijuana-infused snacks have become a booming business, with varieties ranging from chocolate-peppermint Mile candies infused with hash oil. Retail shops see them as a nonthreatening way into the shallow end of the marijuana pool, ideal for older customers, tourists staying in smoke-free hotels or anyone who wants the effect without the smoke and coughing. But the popularity of edible marijuana has alarmed parents' groups, schools and some doctors, who say the highly concentrated snacks are increasingly landing in the hands of teenagers looking for a sweet, discreet high, or of children too young to know the difference between pot brownies and regular ones."

One wonders what the hallowed safety agency in that country, FDA is doing to control such undesirable activities by a misguided section of the industry by indulging in such practices to make a fast buck putting the lives of people at great anger. Is this not a sign of a decaying society where abortion is a taboo but gay marriage is a fashion? No wonder violence and gun culture are perceived as normal in this country. America provides an excellent example of a country being self-destroyed by enormous wealth and arrogance of power, looking down on other less fortunate nations of this world.  



As the general election nears, one can see the feverish pitch at which the Government at the Center is rolling out many populist schemes to "trap" the voters. The most conspicuous scheme has been food security act which is supposed to entitle 67% of people of the country to get adequate quantity of cereal practically free! The Direct Benefit Transfer scheme based on Adhar number touted as a game changer became a flop show after it was "suspended" due to many insurmountable practical problems. According to many experts what country needs is empowerment in stead of entitlement and this has been realized by the opposition parties which are expected to come to power after the election. This is considered a good omen as people can look forward to a change of track benefiting most of the citizens in the coming years. Here is an expose on this issue by a learned journalist which speaks for itself.

"A significant message being articulated by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in its election campaign is that the policy focus should shift from entitlement to empowerment. In speech after speech, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, says that people should stop depending on what the government gives them and become self-reliant. At one level, this is a direct attack on the United Progressive Alliance's (UPA's) record of instituting a number of large safety nets - the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act and the food security Act being the prime examples. While the basic objective of both schemes to provide food and livelihood safety nets to people who genuinely need them cannot be questioned, there are concerns about the design of the schemes and, in the case of the former, the quality of implementation and monitoring. The real question is whether these schemes are high on errors of both inclusion and exclusion - in other words, whether people who don't need benefits are getting them and people who do so are not getting them. This concern has been particularly acute in the food security domain, with the Act guaranteeing subsidised foodgrain to about 67 per cent of the population, while the population below the official poverty line is just about a third of that level. The fiscal consequences of badly targeted programmes are enormous, not to mention the collateral damage of corruption.'

It is a common experience for many poor people that while they get cheap cereals, practically every other item of daily consumption costs heavily due to uncontrolled inflation, straining the family budget. Added to this the cost of labor increased almost 100% during the last three years making services and manufactured products dearer. With free food grains there is no incentivisation for work and in every sphere of activity needing human labor there appears to be an artificial scarcity. How this mess is going to be sorted out is any body's guess! Unless people are empowered to earn their livelihood through making available opportunities to work with decent compensation, no doling out scheme is going to help the country. The free food supply to only those who are genuinely poor makes sense and if the ground realities are to be seen, less than 25% of the population need such assistance till they come out of property. It is a curse on this country that politicians are trying to bribe the population through such anti development policies with the short term objective of achieving power!