Sunday, November 29, 2015

Heirloom cocoa! What is that?

Chocolate industry is one of the high profile industries that supply cocoa bean based confectionery products liked all over the world. However a close look at the industry reveals that cocoa bean is a pretext to sell more sugar and fat to a consumer community which does not seem to have any clue regarding the real quality of chocolate that reflects the magnificent delicate flavor of good cocoa beans. The industry in its frenetic rush for making more and more money also ignored the flavor aspect. In stead it was making products with attractive labels like bitter chocolates, hand crafted chocolates etc. Its R & D activities in agronomy were concentrated more on yield and the beneficial health attributes as per some published scientific reports because of the presence of flavonols in the original unprocessed beans. This trend seems to be changing after efforts by some major players to analyze the flavor profiles of different cocoa beans grown and evolve or discover new varieties that can yield raw materials with better flavor make up. Here is a take on this new development that can be expected to enrich the chocolate market with high end products with comparatively higher prices.  

"That's why leaders in the industry have created the Heirloom Cacao Preservation (HCP) initiative. It's a joint effort between the Fine Chocolate Industry Association and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Agricultural Research Service, and an outgrowth of the booming artisanal chocolate business. The program is utilizing the industry's most discerning palates, along with genetic analysis, to identify—and hopefully preserve—the fine-flavored cacaos of the world. HCP's purpose is to increase the availability of quality cacao and encourage farmers to grow it in a market that's currently overwhelmed by flat-taste, high-yield varieties."The chocolate industry has lost sight of its fundamentals, which include flavor," says Mark Christian, founder of the C-spot, a go-to website for chocolatiers and passionate connoisseurs, who is involved in the initiative. "Most chocolate people don't know good chocolate."Founded in 2011, HCP has so far designated seven "heirloom" cacaos in the world, with provenances in Belize, Costa Rica, Hawaii, Bolivia and Ecuador. The panel of tasting judges is made up of  prominent figures in the chocolate industry, including executives from Guittard Chocolate, Scharffen Berger and Valrhona. They review the historical, cultural, botanical and geographical makeup of each cacao. But most importantly, they are adding one last innovative metric: genetic profiling. "We're going to enter the next wave of chocolate," says Christian. "Chocolate has yet to be data-driven." Actually, corporate chocolate giants such as Lindt, Hershey's and Mars have long had an interest in genetics—but mostly as a tool for preserving and propagating cacao beans that consistently provide the highest yield and can withstand drought and diseases. And the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, the Cocoa Research Center in Trinidad and the International Cocoa Collection of the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center in Turrialba, Costa Rica, all have ongoing programs to analyze and catalogue general data on cacao genetics. But the HCP endeavor is a completely different type of project, one that prizes quality over quantity. It's the first systematic effort by the chocolate industry to look at genetics in terms of flavor. Historically, when the industry identified a tree with a high bean yield, cacao farmers would propagate that variety by taking cuttings of a mother tree and grafting them onto a less desirable type of cacao tree, a process known as cloning. For example, a high-yield bean might be grafted onto the rootstock of a more disease-resistant tree, creating a variety that could more effectively keep up with the industry's demands. Two of the most popular high-volume, fast-producing varieties are CC-N51 in Ecuador and Cacao Mercedes in West Africa, which can both conceivably produce fruit in as little 18 months after being grafted. But cacao of this pedigree is generally low quality when it comes to taste and better suited for bulk production of cocoa butter and cocoa mass critical for making Snickers but a detriment when it comes to crafting a quality bar with few ingredients. Until recently, agronomists claimed there were only three varieties of the Theobroma cacao tree: Criollo, Forastero and Trinitario. But in 2008, Juan Carlos Motamayor, a tropical agronomist for the USDA's National Clonal Germplasm Repository and lead scientist of cocoa genetics at Mars Incorporated (makers of M&Ms, Twix, Milky Way and many other candies),published a study in the journal PLOS One that upended industry beliefs. His team conducted genetic analysis on samples from the three known species. After comparing DNA snippet patterns, they discovered 10 distinct cacao genotypes. A few years later, most believe the number is probably much higher, says Lyndel Meinhardt, a research leader at the Agricultural Research Service's sustainable perennial crops lab. The Mars research, he says, accounted for samples from only a handful of germplasm banks and collections in the world, and didn't represent cacao genotypes still out in the wild that have yet to be discovered. Meinhardt is helping to build a genetics database of cacaos known to have the finest flavors and has already genotyped HCP's first heirloom samples. The current count is 14 types of cacao, but that number is expected to grow—the USDA continues to make efforts to locate more diverse botanicals in unexplored areas of the Amazon."

The above approach by the industry to collectively take up common industry interests for research and development is indeed welcome. The individualistic research then can be devoted to creating unique products with exciting features in competition with each other. For example if a new cocoa variety is discovered with high health attributes by the collective research, individual companies can use the same to create their own branded products which can be promoted with their own resources. Other industries also can use this strategy to create a pool of basic knowledge as a foundation upon which individual branded products can be built. In India the idea of industry cooperation research institutions resulted in setting up several of them but its success was not some thing that is worth mentioning. Probably these were not well conceived and industry also must bear some responsibility for the failure of such attempts as there was very little confidence on the ability of scientists to work wholeheartedly for the industry. The example of the cocoa industry is a model that should serve to guide such future collaborative scientific efforts, nationally as well internationally. 


Unlimited hunger for power-the driving force of the Food Safety Regulator in India!

The duty of any government to safeguard the health of its population through regulatory and deterrent policies forms the foundation of  national laws enacted and enforced from time to time. The three main stakeholders of food landscape in a country are the consumers, the manufacturing industry and the government. Of course there is a fourth party with some stakes in the food scenario viz the growers of the foods but food laws generally are molded keeping in mind the marketed foods thus sparing the farmers. In India we have a power hungry food authority, a predominantly bureaucratic organization which is focusing more on what levers of controls it can hold rather than worrying about the well being of the citizen. What a tragedy! Though conceived with lot of good features the food regulatory guidelines are distorted to increase the powers in the hands of the bureaucrats holding the reins. The draconian measures introduced last year to bring the industry to its knees by "ordering" them to get its "approval" for every product being marketed, was squashed by the judiciary terming it as "arbitrary", a humiliation that should have compelled it to mend its ways. Unfortunately this  agency has become so shameless it is reported to be trying to circumvent the court orders by manipulating the rule book, in quest of dictatorial powers over the industry! Here is a take on this sordid goings on in the country in the name of food safety.  

"The Indian Drug Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) and Vital Neutraceuticals, a city-based company best known for challenging the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India's product approval advisory process, are set to write to the government highlighting what they say are "illegal" measures of the regulator. At the heart of the matter are product approvals again, which the company and the IDMA fought to scrap last year. It was the verdict by the Bombay High Court in the Vital versus FSSAI case in 2014 that paved the way for the scrapping of the latter's approval advisory process by the Supreme Court this year. The apex court in its order dated August 19, 2015, had declared advisories as being arbitrary and hence illegal.The FSSAI has adhered to this directive but has also indicated it will bring back approvals once regulations are done It is this move by the regulator that the IDMA and Vital are seeking to quash. "There is no question of getting the product approval process back again because food safety regulations are based on the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006. And the Act does not indicate anywhere that food business operators should be subjected to a product approval process if they have used ingredients in their products as per law. If they are looking to get the product approval process back again, this time through the regulation route, then they will have to amend the Act. Because all food safety regulations are based on the Food Safety and Standards Act," said GV Kamath, director, Vital Neutraceuticals. The company and the IDMA, which was a party to the Bombay High Court case last year, will write to the Prime Minister's Offifce (PMO) and the health and food processing ministries apprising them of the situation. The letter was expected to go out in the next week, Kamath said, in view of the "urgency of the matter". Ashish Bahuguna, FSSAI chairman, when contacted today, said, "Once regulations are formulated, the process of approvals can be re-introduced." He did not disclose when this was expected. But sources said it could take up to a year. Some food safety experts have questioned the regulator's stance, saying if the list of ingredients under the food safety regulations of 2011 is being expanded then why consider regulating product approvals".

We all remember another such episode involving this so called "Authority"when it tried to punish the noodle industry whatever its intention was by orchestrating a safety scare openly propagating a story that the products made by them are poisonous and dangerous. It further banned them resulting in a loss of Rs 450 crore by the manufacturers who were forced to burn the residual stock. Imagine the loss of this unfortunate victim of FSSAI vendetta as it could not manufacture and market the product for more than 3 months till the the ban as lifted by the court. Probably this Authority will again get a rap on its knuckle if such arbitrary and dictatorial measures of insisting on prior approval of all products and their variants are brought through backdoor in order to quench its ever increasing hunger for brutal authority to lord over the food industry in India!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Stifling innovation-How can governments indulge in such unethical activities?

Ever heard of the term infanticide? That is sacrificing one's own child, whatever be the reason. Why should a parent commit infanticide? Is it because of the potential for the child to become more famous than the parent? Whatever be the reason it is ridiculous that such things happen in real life. Innovations are like children and scientists creating them are like parents to them. Like every parent, innovators also want their findings to be of benefit to the society. But in a quixotic development in the US, the very government which professes its strong commitment to science and technology is reported to have made attempts to "kill" a novel food product developed by a "daring" entrepreneur, through unfair means though there is no explanation forthcoming from the concerned authorities as to why they did it. The case pertains to the successful development of a product by a start up venture that can replicate the taste and other parameters associated with natural egg from poultry birds, based on alternate formulation not involving real eggs. The new product had all the desirable qualities associated with natural egg and could have saved millions of consumer dollars because it was cheaper and healthier than the real egg. Here is a take on this unusual action on the part of US government agencies vested with the responsibility of providing wholesome food to its citizens.   

"A US government-appointed agricultural body tried to crush a Silicon Valley food startup after concluding the company represented a "major threat" and "crisis" for the $5.5bn-a-year egg industry,according to documents obtained by the Guardian. In potential conflict with rules that govern how it can spend its funds, the American Egg Board (AEB) lobbied for a concerted attack on Hampton Creek, a food company that has created a low-cost plant-based egg replacement and the maker of Just Mayo, a mayonnaise alternative. In a series of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act (Foia), AEB staff, a US department of agriculture official and egg industry executives attempted to orchestrate the attack. The documents were obtained by Ryan Shapiro, a Foia expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Shapiro's Washington DC-based Foia-specialist attorney, Jeffrey Light, and passed to Hampton Creek.Just Mayo is just not mayo: FDA says eggless mayonnaise must change name. Among the efforts coordinated between the AEB, the USDA and the egg industry:
    * Outgoing AEB head Joanne Ivy advised Unilever on how to proceed against Hampton Creek after the food giant filed a false advertising lawsuit against its rival last year.
    * The Department of Agriculture's national supervisor of shell eggs joined the AEB in its attack on Hampton Creek, suggesting Ivy contact the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) directly about Just Mayo with her concerns. The FDA later ruled Just Mayo must change its name.
    * The AEB attempted to have Just Mayo blocked from Whole Foods, asking Anthony Zolezzi, a partner at private equity firm Pegasus Capital Advisors and self-described "eco-entrepreneur", to use his influence with Whole Foods to drop the product. (Whole Foods still sells Just Mayo.)
    * More than one member of the AEB made joking threats of violence against Hampton Creek's founder, Josh Tetrick. "Can we pool our money and put a hit on him?" asked Mike Sencer, executive vice-president of AEB member organization Hidden Villa Ranch. Mitch Kanter, executive vice-president of the AEB, jokingly offered "to contact some of my old buddies in Brooklyn to pay Mr. Tetrick a visit".
    * The AEB's research arm, the Egg Nutrition Center (ENC), tested the strength of Hampton Creek's patent for its egg replacer, Beyond Eggs, using a consultant, Gilbert Leveille. Leveille concluded that the patent was "not very strong and could be easily challenged with an alternate product", he said in an email to Kanter. "Were I in your position I would focus on nutritional quality and on the emerging science, much of which ENC has sponsored," Leveille wrote.
The emails, totalling 600 pages, show the AEB has become deeply concerned about Hampton Creek. The San Francisco-based tech company has attracted $120m in funding from some of tech's biggest names, including the Founders Fund, started by Facebook backer Peter Thiel, and Vinod Khosla's Khosla Ventures.
The AEB represents egg farmers across the US and its board is selected by the secretary of agriculture. This year the politically connected AEB provided 14,000 eggs for the White House's annual Easter egg roll and Ivy was photographed with President Barack Obama"

It is matter of shame for the wealthiest country on earth to adopt unfair means to subdue a new entrepreneur in the narrow interest of protecting the fortunes of the natural egg industry. The argument that encouraging strong competition to the natural egg might adversely impact the poultry industry resulting in loss of employment to a few people will not jell because establishment of a new industry that caters to the same market will also provide employment, thus becoming an employment neutral development. What is forgotten in this debate is that the formulated egg products are much more healthier than their natural counterpart in terms of lower cholesterol and other adverse health parameters. It is a curse for this country that most law makers are lobbyists for one industry or the other because of the political donations they receive which the Federal court had made legal. However these law makers are forgetting that their primary responsibility is to the voters who elected them rather than the lobbyists, reposing trust and confidence on their ethical credentials, integrity and seriousness to address the issues affecting them.


Monday, November 23, 2015

Farming in Canada-The much hated Supply Management System distorting the market landscape

Why do Canadians pay two to three times more for their milk purchase compared to their counterparts in other countries? It might appear shocking that a developed country like Canada has in place a tightly controlled dairy sector held in a vice like grip by the bureaucrats endowed with the responsibility of sustaining the diary economy of the country. The archaic system does not permit the farmers to expand their cow population beyond a quota allowed by the government to prevent a milk glut and consequent price crash. While imports could be much cheaper a deliberate custom duty imposition make them as costly as the domestically produced milk. How this country can break this system to synchronize with that in other countries is a million dollar question. According to critics a cow in Canada can be costlier than an automobile because of the restrictions on the entry of new dairy entrepreneurs into the existing cozy club! Read further below to understand this ridiculous situation to decide whether to laugh or cry! 

"The reference price for milk is going up again today by 7.8%, forcing milk-using industries to pay more coast-to-coast for an important input. Soon, consumers will feel the price hike when they buy fluid milk or other dairy products at the grocery store. Given that productivity has been rising for centuries in agriculture, one might wonder why we keep paying more for milk instead of less. The reason: Theseproductivity gains are being wasted away in our inefficient supply management system. The creation of the Canadian Dairy Commission in 1966 produced Canada's first national agricultural supply management system. This system relies essentially on two major forms of government involvement in agricultural markets. Largely through a quota system that controls the quantity of milk offered, it sets up planning and administrative control over pricing and marketing. And it relies on customs tariffs that are set high enough to keep foreign products out. Through these measures, the government ensures a captive market for Canadian farmers. The establishment of quotas is equivalent to issuing rights to sell a certain quantity at administratively set prices. Milk quotas were initially distributed free of charge but later changed hands on centralized exchanges, becoming increasingly expensive.An average of more than $22000 was required to make use of a cow and sell its milk in Canada in 2002. In 2003, according to Statistics Canada, quotas amounted to an average of nearly $1.1-million per dairy farm and a total of almost $17.6-billion for all dairy farming operations in Canada. This represents close to half the entire permanent long-term asset base of milk producers. To set up a dairy farm, almost as much would have to be spent on quotas as on the assets truly required for milk production, such as animals, land, buildings, farm machinery and equipment. Thus quotas have become a barrier to entry for anyone wishing to start a new dairy operation. The paradox is that farmers already in the market have no interest in ending the quota system. Quotas constitute an "asset" that farmers can sell and that is often used to guarantee loans from financial institutions. Abolishing supply management would result in quotas losing their entire value, posing serious problems for farmers and their creditors. Supply management also deters adapting production to economic conditions. Efficient farmers who might wish, for instance, to raise their production cannot do so because they are not authorized to exceed their quotas. Instead of trying to win market share to the benefit of consumers through various strategies in areas such as pricing, quality, product differentiation, advertising, service or forms of marketing, Canadian farms under supply management must devote an increasing share of their resources to covering the cost of quotas. From a geographic standpoint, evolution of the system is blocked. It is very difficult to modify the proportion of quotas that each province receives. This rigidity is a source of conflict between provinces and of added uncertainty for farmers. Because of quotas, it is impossible to take advantage of more favourable production conditions in different parts of Canada if and when they arise. The costs of the supply management system are, of course, reflected in retail prices. These artificially high prices correspond in reality to an implicit tax that governments have authorized farmers to impose on consumers. The OECD estimates the assistance provided to Canadian dairy producers through supply management at $2.7-billion in 2003, equal to more than 60% of the value of total dairy production that year. It also found that Canadian milk prices have been two to three times higher than world prices since 1986. This has no doubt contributed to a drop of nearly 15% in per capita milk consumption in Canada between 1986 and 2003."

Whether it is the World Bank or the International Monetary Fund, the so called financial wizards in these august bodies never cease to chant the mantra of "economic liberalization" and WTO pressurize every country on this earth to ensure exports without restrictions levying practically no import duties! Yet here is a country which likes to preach to the poor countries about the virtues of free trade and open economy. Subsidy is supposed to be a dirty word to these wealthy countries but look what are they doing!.Canadian government is reported to be subsidizing its dairy industry to the tune of almost 1.5 billion dollars every year. While the dairy farmers are fattened by this subsidy, the per capita consumption of milk in Canada seems to be falling to the extent of 15% during the last two decades, which is not an encouraging sign! 


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Bihar-Heaven for food adulterators and fraudsters?

Though Bihar has been hogging all the lime light lately for all wrong reasons, what is sad to hear is the pathetic infrastructure the state has for protecting the citizens from rampant adulteration of almost all foods sold in the market place. There are lakhs and lakhs of retailers and traders selling a diverse basket of foods that include essential materials like cereal, pulses and edible oils while milk vendors, thousands of them, selling milk at the door steps of many households. According to some studies the extent of adulteration in these essential food items can be as high as 50-60% with the hapless citizens there being taken for a ride with or without their knowledge. While many adulterants might be innocuous and considered economic offenses, there are many instances when food materials contain dangerous components, extraneous to the original food with the potential to cause serious health disorders. Unless there is constant vigilance and deterrent action the food criminals will have no fear of the law. How can any responsible government in a state like Bihar rest in peace when its citizens are exposed to dangerous adulterants in their day to day foods? Obviously this does not seem to be a priority area deserving attention at the hands of the current rulers in the state. Here is a take on this unfortunate state of affairs in that state vis-a-vis food safety. 

"ood safety is a matter of concern, thanks to a nationwide row over Maggi. Bihar's food safety wing has, however, only 14 officers to man its 38 districts.  In contrast, the food safety officers number 554 in Tamil Nadu, 273 in UP, 178 in Gujarat, 169 in Madhya Pradesh and 87 in Jammu & Kashmir, according to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) website. Bihar food safety commissioner Anand Kishor candidly admits this wing is understaffed. "But the health department has accepted a proposal to create 625 posts of food safety officers. The finance department will soon give its nod to it," he said."

Is it not ridiculous that the FSSAI vested with the responsibility of ensuring food safety in all states in the country is wasting its time and resources chasing the noodle manufacturers showing its "fangs" on imaginary safety issues while the common man who hardly consume any noodle is left to fend for himself? They are more concerned about punishing one noodle manufacturer than taking action to protect the poor people of Bihar! Otherwise how can any one explain the sordid state of food safety management that exists in that state where just 14 personnel are supposed to "look after" 38 districts through preventive and deterrent actions which only can keep the fraudsters on their toes? Even in a smaller state like Tamilnadu there are 20 times more personnel to carry out surveillance in the market than that in Bihar. Will the situation improve after the installation of the new "Lalubetaraj" there? Unlikely because the Rs 1000 crore animal feed scam is still fresh in the memory of every concerned India. 


Friday, November 20, 2015

Finally here is an "artificial" nose that can help optimize use of flavorings!

How are the foods assessed for their flavor by the processors before deciding about their quality and acceptance by the consumers? In many cases there are marker chemicals representing the major flavor notes which can be quantitatively estimated using advanced instrumentation/ gadgets like gas-liquid chromatography, high pressure liquid chromatography, nuclear magnetic resonance instrument, mass spectroscopy etc. Still in cases where the flavor composition is very complex no instrument will be able to correctly forecast the quality and therefore human nose, oral cavity and tongue play important roles in assessing the flavor and texture. The science of organoleptic evaluation or sensory evaluation has progressed so much to day that there are reliable and dependable objective tests using humans, especially trained panelists to take decisions regarding product quality.Tea tasting, coffee tasting and wine tasting are still in vogue and specially trained taste panels do these evaluation regularly with remarkable reproduceability. Now comes the news that an artificial nose has been designed by a firm in the UK which can assess the quality of chocolates suitable for use by major chocolate producers with some degree of reliability. Here is a take on this new development which may be a standard feature of quality testing protocols by the chocolate industry in future. 

"Snacking giant Mondelez - behind brands such as Cadburys, Oreo and Kenco - has just installed an artificial nose at its UK research headquarters that it hopes can sniff out some new ways to create products, perhaps making them a little more Willy Wonka-ish along the way.The way that the compounds in chocolate work together can be analysed by the machine The machine, based at Reading in Berkshire, has a pretty sophisticated sense of smell, able to identify the compounds that make up different foodstuffs - in the case of chocolate, about 40. "We have always been able to measure the compounds but this is the first time that we've been able to analyse how they interact with each other in real time," explained Alex Webbe, senior group leader at Mondelez international global science and technology research centre.
So when the artificial nose is given some chocolate to smell, it is able to pick out two key compounds - a cheesy note not usually associated with chocolate, alongside the more traditional cocoa flavour. The progress of the compounds as they are put through an artificially created eating process can be monitored via a computer readout, offering a kind of digital signature for the chocolate. Scientists can see how the water-soluble "cheesy" flavour dies off when the chocolate is chewed, giving way to the more familiar cocoa flavour. So what does this real-time view of chocolate tell us about this popular favourite guilty pleasure? One thing it suggests is that chocolate is probably best enjoyed "at ambient temperature", said Mr Webbe. But it isn't just about taste. "Some people like the texture of chocolate straight out of the fridge." The artificial nose is also being used to analyse the flavours in chewing gum and work out why they come to an end, perhaps even suggesting ways that it can keep flavour for longer."

How far this "nose" will correlate with consumer perception of what is to be expected from a piece of chocolate remains to be seen. Though at present this instrument is used largely for theoretical research into the basic flavors of chocolate, the innovators expect this to be useful tool to profile the desirable flavors in many products with multiple chemical substances, each contributing certain notes to the final flavor of the product. Will there be similar instruments evolved in future for products like tea, coffee and wine with a cocktail of complex flavor constituents? Only future will tell!


Ready Meals with long life-New approach

A recent report that in many Western countries the frozen meals are becoming increasingly unpopular, reasons for which are not well known, is creating some anxiety among the major players in this sector. The fact that it is experiencing a negative growth during the last few years cannot be ignored and it is natural that it is a cause of concern.. It surely does send a powerful message about the the fast changing food habits in many parts of the world. Whether it is due to better awareness about the intimate linkage between food and health or the desire to eat safer foods which is the driving force is any body's guess. In contrast the organic food industry which was a minuscule player till about a decade ago is looking imposingly towering over the mainstream food industry which tells a narrative that consumer trust in food industry is fast eroding , probably due to the perception that the industry is more concerned with profits rather than their well being. The emergence of the High Pressure Processing Technology (HPP) probably may give a breather for the main stream industry as it is one of the cleanest technologies man has ever known with no apprehension about quality or safety issues. Here is a take on the fast growing HPP technology which is increasingly being applied to many products including ready meals. .  

"Another use for High Pressure technology is on ready meals. The CSIRO's director of innovation in food, nutrition and bioproducts, Professor Martin Cole, said dinner was nearly ready. "Ready meals as a business are really taking off around the world," he said, at the Future of Food conference at the University of Sydney. "Everyone is time poor and yet everyone wants really good quality food, "With that business is the shelf-life, and that's where the technology comes into play. "It's based on High Pressure technology, which we've been looking at for over a decade, brought here from around the world."We've even taken some things from the CSIRO Total Wellbeing diet, so instead of people needing to read the books, these are ready meals."

Frozen meals are supposed to be the most convenient format for preparing a meal with minimum hassles though thawing still represents a minor hurdle in making a meal in a jiffy. Besides apparent loss of texture during freezing process and subsequent thawing could be a disadvantage  against this category of foods. It is here HPP technology scores over all others and that explains its gaining unparalleled popularity with the industry. From being a limited player till recently handling only fruit juices, HPP can be useful in preserving many food products without exposing to severe processing conditions. The only constraint for its fast growth is the unbearably high cost of the machinery involved in setting up even small scale production facilities. If the technology becomes popular and if large demand emerges, the cost may come down significantly in the coming years.


Thursday, November 19, 2015

Smart labels-Need of the hour to help consumers detect quality impinged foods

Cold stored foods and frozen products are expected to keep their quality only if the ideal temperatures are maintained during storage, distribution and in the market places. Though accidental, unanticipated contingencies can cause abrupt temperature rise once in a while, there are deliberate actions by some unscrupulous traders to manipulate the cold storage conditions to save on the energy consumption without realizing the adverse consequences on the quality and safety of the products. In India it is a common practice for petty traders with refrigerators to switch off them during night when the shops down their shutters to be restarted in the morning after opening the shop. While safety might not be a major problem, there will be definitely significant quality deterioration if thawing and freezing take place repeatedly and too often.The manufacturers as well as the consumers have no way to know whether quality damage has taken place in side the sealed packs as there is no tell tale evidence of such malpractices at the seller's end. The reported development of smart labels which can indicate adverse quality changes for the consumer to see when purchased may be a boon for millions of people who buy cold stored food products. Read further on this subject below:

"To ensure the "cool chain", the University of Milano Bicocca has developed a label that is sensitive to temperature changes and that changes colour when the safety limits are exceeded. The study was published in the scientific journal "Advanced Optical Materials". The "smart" label was designed by a team of researchers from the Department of Materials Science of the University of Milano Bicocca and the Imperial College of London, coordinated by Luca Beverina, associate professor in Organic Chemistry at the University of Milano Bicocca. The label is based on a chemical reaction optimized by researchers that activates an organic pigment on a porous silica film to be applied on the package. The label is colourless: if during the journey the temperature exceeds 4°C, it becomes light blue; after being above the temperature suitable to ensure correct product storage for three hours, it becomes dark blue. The colouring is irreversible so that the label "always tells the truth" about the storage of a product, from packaging to sales desk"

Of course how far this innovation will be accepted by the industry and the retailers is a critical question which will decide its utilitarian value. Though these labels are primarily intended for use by cold chain players for detecting wide fluctuations in the temperature during transit, it should also serve at the retail level provided every  manufacturer uses them on their products. The cost of making smart labels must be very nominal and cost consideration might not be a constraint. In a highly technological country like the US, such innovations are likely to be accepted fast. But it is rather doubtful whether in most developing countries smart labels will ever find takers as the industry is least regulated and it is used to getting away with selling products of indifferent quality to the hapless consumer because there is no reddressal mechanism for such malpractices by the industry.  Probably the regulatory authorities could step in to make smart labels mandatory for temperature sensitive cold products.


How ridiculous Indian Food Laws can be! The license seems to back!

There was a time when licensing raj was rampant in the country with the government bureaucrats wielding literally dictatorial powers to decide who is allowed to start an industry which was largely responsible for the stagnation in the manufacturing sector for many decades. This also ushered in the unbridled corruption environment where for every thing to do with the government the citizen has to pay "bribes". One can see where this has taken the country and to day corruption scandals are rules of the day rather than exceptions. As for food processing there were several departments of the government both at the center as well as at the state level, treating the entrepreneurs like dirt dampening the national entrepreneurial spirit very significantly. Then came hope when the Central government brought in the much touted Food Safety and Authority of India to consolidate all laws pertaining to food manufacturing, Alas, what one sees to day is total chaos and gargantuan road blocks before the industry in the form of untenable demands from this arrogant agency. It is still in the fresh memory of people in this country how the "authority" tried to destroy an entire industry recently by banning its products on fictitious technical basis, though the judiciary had to step in to checkmate the authoritarian action of the "authority" ! Why it is so much obsessed with noodles is a big mystery because its latest assault comes in the form diktats ordering a particular manufacturer not to market its branded noodle for reasons known to them only. Here is a take on this interesting behavior of the "authority"   

The instant noodles brand launched by Ramdev's Patanjali does not have food safety approval, the central regulator FSSAI has said,  a charge that the yoga teacher has denied. "Neither Patanjali Yog nor Aayush, which are the two brand names under which Ramdev's company have got licenses, have got any approval for manufacturing instant noodles," said Ashish Bahuguna, the acting CEO of the FSSAI or Food Safety and Standards Authority of India. He said that only 10 companies have approval for manufacturing noodles. Ramdev rubbished the claim and said that his company had taken permission from the regulator. "I think there is some misunderstanding on this.  Patanjali Atta noodle have product approval for manufacturing," he said. Patanjali said in a statement that it has license in the "pasta" category, which includes noodles. But the food safety regulator said the company needed separate permission to make "Atta" or wheat noodles."

Earlier the food industry had to submit the label of the product it intends to make to the government agencies and if there was no response., it could go ahead with the marketing. To day FSSAI wants each and every food handling unit including the mom and pop kitchens to take license from it and renew the same every year! While big companies may have the wherewithal to meekly submit to their diktats, it is the poor micro sector that suffers because of various constraints. Is it not a tragedy that FSSAI is least concerned about critical foods like milk, food grains, spices, edible oils, sweetmeats etc which are adulterated day in and day out across the country putting the lives of hapless citizens into jeopardy, doing nothing? Earlier this bureaucratic and authoritative organization is dismantled, better it will be for the country. In stead the responsibility of managing food safety must be left to the state organizations based on well defined national guidelines. What is needed is pumping massive funds into these state level food vigilance agencies to strengthen their infrastructure and personnel, in stead of wasting precious resources on a top heavy bureaucratic organization centered in Delhi in the name of food safety.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Is the junk food era contracting? Latest trend indicates such a directional change in the food sector

Unhealthy foods are supposed to be overwhelming the populations in many countries causing untold miseries in the form of life style diseases like obesity and disorders like diabetes, CVD, kidney impairment, cancer etc. The modern food processing industry which manufactures and peddles thousands of products to the unwary consumers is partly to blame for this tectonic shift in the health status of to day's denizens. Of course lack of determination to lead a disciplined life and greater and greater addiction to sugary and fatty foods with low nutrient density on the part of the consumer also contribute to this potentially dangerous situation. It is against this background one has to appreciate the reversal of a trend in the past of increased consumption of unhealthy foods as reflected by the data released recently in the US. This is indeed encouraging and must be welcomed by the health experts hoping for a reinvigorated society with declining diseases and improved health. 

"The U.S. food industry has got decisions to make, decisions that could make or break companies that have been in business for decades. When Pepsico CEO Indra Nooyi told analysts last month that the soft-drink market "continues to be under pressure from a volume perspective," that's another way of saying not as many people are drinking soda. In fact, as the Wall Street Journal recently reported, soda and cereal revenue has contracted about 2 percent a year in the United States for the past two years. That's based on data from Euromonitor International. Go back a little further and you find that U.S. soda and cereal sales are down 25 percent since 1998. But there are other changes:
--Orange juice per capita consumption is down 45 percent in this country over the past 17 years
--Frozen dinner sales are down nearly 12 percent from 2007 to 2013
--Sales of organic products hit $39.1 billion in 2014, up 11 percent over the previous year, according to the Organic Trade Association."

If one relies on these figures what would be the response from the industry which has been taking the consumers for a ride during the last 5 decades by playing to their palate rather than to their health? Alarms are being raised about declining sales volumes of products like soft drinks affecting their bottom line and surely the industry must be mulling over new strategies for recapturing its lost clientele. However if the organic food industry has registered impressive growth during the last few years, the writing on the wall is clear. The message is to the industry to mend its ways and give more attention to the well being of its clients when future strategies are drawn up. What is disturbing is the declining consumption of healthy products like orange juice which may be due the deceptive ways by which sugar laden dilute juices are sold as genuine juice and the consumer seeing through this deceit. Probably the industry has no alternative but to focus more on converting many of their products to healthier ones by avoiding use of unnecessary chemicals, too much sugar, fat and salt  and making them more nutritious and safe using natural raw materials and ingredients that make it possible. 


Friday, November 13, 2015

How about an egg with white yolk? Possible?

Egg is considered a complete food and is consumed by millions of people all over the world. Over the centuries eggs are consumed in one form or the other, most common form being boiled egg, fried egg and omelette. What does one look when a boiled egg is prepared for eating? The rubbery egg white and grainy yolk yellow in color. While the egg white is made up of one of the richest proteins known to mankind, egg yolk is mostly made of fat thus providing a balanced protein-fat combination. What will any one feel when a boiled egg does not contain the normal yellow colored yolk? Probably will not accept it as a genuine egg! Shockingly Japanese generally do not think so and they seem to be favoring an all white egg with both the egg white as well as the yolk appearing white! How can such eggs be created in the farm? Read below how they are managing such a unique type of egg in that country.  

"While many of us prefer eggs with deep coloured yolks,people in Japan like to have eggs with whiter interiors. To keep the 'egg lovers' happy, farmers in Japan are constantly trying to rear chicken that lay eggs with white yolks. Eggs with yellow yolks usually get their colour from chicken feed that's made of imported corn. The eggs, which are laid by rice-fed hens, owe their unusual colour to the diet of the chicken. These eggs are known as Kometsuya—a combination of Japanese words kome (rice) and tsuya (luster). Several chicken farms have already started transitioning their birds to feed that is mostly produced locally, reported the Japan Times. "In the not-too-distant future, white sunny-side ups will be part of the daily cuisine for Japanese," says an official of Hokkaido Dosanko Plaza shop in Japan."

In to day's commercial farming system, boosting the yolk color is achieved by feeding the birds with diets containing high levels of  carotenoids, an yellow component present in grains like maize and most vegetables and colored fruits. It is well known that wheat based feeds invariably give pale yellow yolk compared to feeds based on maize. Those who like dark yellow color incorporate greens and other plant sources rich in carotenoids. Japanese who love white yolk were able to achieve this by scrupulously avoiding carotenoids containing ingredients and use white rice as the major component of the poultry feed. One wonders which other country will accept an egg that doe not contain the yellow yolk! A classical example of traditional food habits which are difficult to change easily!


Who will protect the consumer in India? Food fraudsters are having a free run!

There are thousands of food products manufactured and marketed in India and they are supposed to be conforming to the quality and safety standards prescribed by the relevant authorities set up by the government of India under the food safety act originating in 2006. However there is a lot of slip between the cup and the lips, meaning the concerned laws are just toothless paper tigers giving practically no protection to the citizen. Though our food standards are second to none when it comes to many of its legal provisions, it is the enforcement regime that is woefully inadequate, allowing the food fraudsters unhindered freedom to adulterate the food with no fear of retribution. Lack of adequate infrastructure, acute shortage of qualified and experienced personnel and a tortoise paced judiciary all combine to make the system practically redundant with no hope of redemption. Though some consumers, conscious about the dangers inherent in foods consumed in the country, desire to take proactive steps to bring the culprits to books, there is very little chance they will be able to do so because of the inherent weakness of the present system. Read further below to understand why the government cuts a sorry figure when it comes to enforcement of the food laws in this country.    

"Government agencies may be making tall claims of protecting consumer rights, particularly in case of food products, but the existing legal provisions expose how people are at the mercy of retailers and state agencies to get justice when they suspect a product to be unsafe or adulterated. According to the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) Act, the consumer has to inform the retailer that he is buying the product for testing and he must take a receipt. Consumer activists and even officials said in all probability, retailers would refuse to sell products in such cases. Pointing out how such provisions are impractical to implement, Suresh Misra, professor of consumer affairs at Indian Institute of Public Administration, said, "The minute a consumer says why he is buying the product, no retailer will sell the item. This is despite the fact that the retailer won't be held responsible for any defect in the product."  He added that government agencies should be proactive and pick up samples regularly for testing rather than expecting consumers to do this. "You can imagine how government departments have not even used the legal provisions. 19 years since the Consumer Protection Act came into existence with provision for 'class action', such a complaint was filed for the first time only last week," Misra said. Even FSSAI officials admitted that provisions in the present act do not encourage consumers to pursue cases. The act says after getting a sample from the retailer, the purchaser has to take the product to the food analyst. "Then the consumer is again at the mercy of the food analyst. It's up to him to undertake the test promptly or cite some reason or the other to delay the test even after taking the requisite fees," a senior FSSAI official said. Subsequently, the food analyst shall forward the report to the "designated officer", who takes a final decision for prosecution. Sources said the proposed amendments to the Act may address such 'impractical' provisions. Meanwhile, the consumer affairs department in its proposed consumer protection law has tried to address some of the concerns by bringing failure of a retailer to provide receipt of any purchase under the provision of "unfair trade practice". Moreover, once consumers report complaints to the proposed Central Consumer Protection Authority (CCPA), the agency will carry out raids, seize items and conduct investigations. However, in case of food items that fall under FSSAI Act, the CCPA will forward its investigation report to the food regulator seeking action against the violator."

Imagine the frustration the citizens can have when, knowing well that they are being cheated day in and day out in the market place, they just become a part of the helpless community which can only watch the tamasha going on in the name of food safety! The public complaint system touted by the government for identifying culprits is a sham as illustrated by the above report. Interestingly the large supermarkets coming up in urban areas are supposed to ensure sale of clean, quality foods with assured safety but whether they are really dong it is a million dollar question. If these mega players are really sincere they should have a product return system under which any consumer can bring back the product if not satisfied and exchange the same for a good product. Alas, this is not happening in India though there are a few who accept returned products, if apparently they look like damaged but not based on quality complaint if the pack is opened at home! Probably there is no alternative to government expanding its vigilance net work several fold to instill some sense of fear among the fraudsters.Will this happen any time sooner? One can only hope that better sense will prevail!  


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Domestic water purification paper-new development

Water borne infectious diseases are a major scourge in many developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The problem becomes acute when it comes to rural areas where access to clean water is an exception rather than a rule. A typical human being need about a liter of water for drinking every day and providing this to the citizen is the bounden duty and responsibility of any independent nation. Look at India itself which boasts itself as an economic power close on the heels China with an annual per capita GDP of Rs 72000 per year. But even after 68 years of independence from Britain the country's governing class has not been able to set up necessary infrastructure for supplying protected water to its citizens. Though most towns and cities have democratically elected administering bodies, they are all conspicuous by their neglect of the well being of the citizens residing within their areas. The water supply system is so archaic and under performing that average citizens do not repose much confidence on the safety of water made available sporadically for a couple of hours a day! Imagine the situation in the rural hinterlands where water sources are scarce, most depending on ground water supplied through single outlet at a common place. Water is never treated exposing the population, already with compromised health conditions, to a number of pathogens which can wreak havoc and health damage to them. If boiling water can sanitize the water, shortage and high cost of fuel for achieving the same in these poverty ridden areas is very difficult. Probably same situation exists in hundreds of other poor countries grappling with this huge human problem. Against such a background, development of a low cost water purification gadget is a welcome news indeed. Read further to understand and appreciate this innovative gadget called Drinkable Book.  

"For people in developing nations or rural locations, getting clean water may soon be as simple as opening a book and ripping a page out. That's the idea behind The Drinkable Book, developed by Carnegie Mellon University postdoc Theresa Dankovich. Each of its pages is made from a thick sheet of paper impregnated with silver and copper nanoparticles, that kill 99.9 percent of microbes in tainted water that's filtered through it. Dankovich began work on the technology when she was earning her doctorate at McGill University, continuing it at the University of Virginia's Center for Global Health. She has now formed a non-profit company, pAge Drinking Paper, to get the book into production and distribution. Every page of the book is made up of two filters, each one of which in turn being capable of cleaning up to 26 US gallons (100 liters) of water – one book should reportedly be able to handle one person's water needs for four years. After the filter is removed from the book, it's placed in an included box-like holder which is then mounted on top of a 5-gallon bucket. The dirty water is then poured through."

Some time average denizen cannot help thinking that the governments are not serious about clean water supply because of its involvement with vested interests. To day bottled water market is so huge, making billions of rupees of profit for the industry, that continuing the present situation with just nominal progress in this sector suits the class of politicians, bureaucrats and the industry! Since drinking from a bottle of water is becoming a status symbol, those who can afford, seem to have no complaint either. It is the poor man who suffers with no end in sight to his travail. Though the Carnegie University innovation is a  breakthrough when it comes to eradication of water borne diseases, the million dollar question is whether national governments will be serious in promoting manufacture of Drinking Books in adequate numbers and make them available in the vast rural hinterlands of the country. Probably  this innovation will be relegated to a few honest and sincere voluntary organizations to promote which may not create much impact at national level.      


Added sugar in foods- Can it be the villain for unhealthy society?

The debate whether sugar is the real villain of peace when it comes to the spread of diseases like diabetes, CVD, hypertension, kidney ailments etc will go on in this world as long as conclusive and unanimous view emerge from the scientific community. But food industry seems to be "convinced" that sugar is innocent as a food adjunct used by them and its addition to millions of processed products make them palatable and enjoyable. Of course it has a right to demand for proof that sugar really does any harm to human beings if and when consumed in "moderate" quantities. There lies the rub! What is moderate quantity? Is there any definitive view regarding what is moderate consumption? The tendency of the industry to add sugar at levels far more that is really called for getting the sweet taste does not help its cause either. The emerging view that naturally present sugar and added sugar in the products while processing makes a difference cannot be brushed away easily. In almost all cases naturally occurring foods like whole grains, whole fruits and others are far superior in terms of health value to their processed counterparts and white refined sugar also must be viewed from this perspective. Probably this is the basis of the move in some countries to restrict the extent of added sugar during processing to no more than 10% of total calories in the daily diet. Though this is being stoutly resisted by the industry, this new suggestion will find acceptance among the consumers world over. Here is a take on the new guidelines being considered for nutrition labeling in the US.  

"But lately, the message has gotten a lot more specific and comes down to this: If you are getting more than 10% of your calories from "added sugars" — everything from the sugar in your coffee to the high-fructose corn syrup in your ketchup —  you are getting too much. Some experts say even 10% is probably excessive, given the links between sugar and obesity, diabetes and heart disease. The latest authority to endorse the 10% or less idea: the Food and Drug Administration. Under a proposal it announced this summer, food labels would have to say how close each serving comes to providing 50 grams, or 200 calories, of added sugar — the 10% mark for a typical 2,000-calorie diet. That's 12 teaspoons of sugar. So what does that mean for your eating and drinking day? If you are a soda drinker, it's huge: 50 grams is the amount in one sugar-sweetened 16-ounce bottle, meaning if you gulp one down, the rest of your day should be an added sugar-free zone. That might be tough in a world where even pasta sauces and bread have added sweeteners.(Note: the sugars naturally found in milk and fruit don't count). "It's really worth keeping your eye on the major sources," says Michael Jacobson, president of the nutrition watchdog group Center for Science in Public Interest. "The culprits are obvious." According to a recent report from the Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee, the expert group that recommends U.S. dietary guidelines, the major sources of added sugar in the U.S. diet are: • Beverages: 47%. Those include soft drinks (25%), fruit drinks (11%), sweetened coffee and tea (7%), sport and energy drinks (3%) and alcohol (1%). • Snacks and sweets such as cakes, pies and cookies: 31%. • Everything else, including condiments and dressings: 22%. The report says average consumers now get 13.4% of their calories from added sugar, but that is based on what people admit to government researchers, Jacobson says. Other data suggest average intake might be 20% or higher, he says. Either way, "we have a long way to go," says Rachel Johnson, a nutrition professor at the University of Vermont and spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Even without new labeling rules — opposed by some food industry groups — consumers can cut added sugars now, she says. "The first step is to think about your drink," she says. After that: • Use current labels, which list total sugars, to estimate added sugars. "If there's no milk or fruit in it, assume all the sugar is added sugar," she says. • Look for the "ose." If an ingredient ends in those letters — sucrose, fructose, maltose and dextrose — it's a sugar. • Buy unsweetened versions of healthy foods such as oatmeal and yogurt and sweeten them yourself. Whether you use sugar, honey or maple syrup (Johnson, as a Vermonter, favors that), you probably will use less than a food company would. For further reading, refer below cited reference:"

This is a welcome development in the area of health science and the sensitivity this has created among the policy makers is noteworthy. There is lot of logic in the argument that if sugar addition in quantities more than that demanded by the taste and flavor angles can be justified only if technologically it is a necessity. In sugar preserves sugar addition serves a different purpose viz to preserve the product through the osmotic pressure exerted by high concentration of sugar on pathogenic organisms thus achieving extended shelf life and safety. Also logical is the argument that even if sugar present in a packed product is less than what is perceived to be right by individual consumers, it can always added before using at home. It is certain majority of the consumers will accept lower levels of sugar which can make a big impact on consumption of white sugar in the long term and hopefully will lead to a more healthy world.


Sunday, November 8, 2015

Using kids toys for more healthy foods-New policy ploy for improving nutrition of fast foods

Advertisements and gift attractions are integral part of promoting a product or a service. Commercial promotion has become such a critical part of any modern marketing that business volume is invariably linked to intensity of advertisement and promotion and the spending incurred by the brands. Look at to day's Television industry in India where piggy back riding on entertainment and other broadcasting programs seems to be bringing in more than adequate returns for those brands for the money invested. It is another matter that the proportion of time usurped by the commercials to the program content is increasing alarmingly, often taking up more than 50% of the slotted program time. Incredulously most advertisements are so stupid that the viewers, if given an app to skip them,  will gladly use it with great relief! On the ground level, marketeers also use the ploy to offer gifts to consumers if they buy their products and many unwary buyers fall for this trap. Children are especially vulnerable to this allurement and success in providing toys in packed foods as well as in restaurants have been clearly proved to be most successful way of persuading parents to buy junk foods succumbing to the pleadings of their kids.Taking into consideration this trend many policy makers are proposing using the same strategy to promote healthy foods through the toy route. Here is the gist of it as being suggested by researchers at the New York University Langone Medical Center based on the results of field studies establishing the soundness of this concept.   .  

"If a proposed new policy in New York City is approved, then fast food meals that come with toys would contain fewer calories overall, and fewer from fat and sodium, researchers report. "We can create policies that will nudge us toward healthier behaviors," said senior author Marie Bragg, of NYU Langone Medical Center in New York. The proposed policy, which was introduced to the New York City Council, says fast food meals that come with a small toy must include a serving of fruit, vegetable or whole grain. The law would also limit meals with toys to no more than 500 calories, and it would place additional restrictions on fat and salt. To estimate the effect of the proposal, researchers analyzed food purchases made by 358 adults for 422 children at Burger King, McDonald's and Wendy's restaurants in New York City and New Jersey in 2013 and 2014. The average child in the study was seven years old. As reported in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, the adults purchased an average of 600 calories of food for each child, with a third of those calories coming from fat. The meals contained an average of 869 mg of salt - more than half the total daily limit recommended by the American Heart Association. About 35 percent of the children ate kids' meals that came with toys - and 98 percent of those meals did not meet the proposed guidelines, the researchers write. If all the meals with toys met the proposed standards, children would consume 9 percent fewer calories and there would also be 10 percent reductions in salt and calories from fat, the researchers calculated. "It's a rather small amount in comparison to how bad the country's obesity problem really is," Bragg acknowledged. But small changes could add up, she said. "There's a lot of value in the incremental changes that can sum up to a great impact with all the other changes occurring in the environment," such as policies that create healthier workplaces and communities, Bragg told Reuters Health.
Bragg hopes fast food restaurants won't try to sidestep any new policies. "We're at a point where we have to move the needle and we have to do it with policies like this," she said. ("

This is a welcome development because earlier policy makers were worried about the negative impact of the successful use of toys by the manufacturers of junk foods in making fortunes made by exploiting the soft minds of young kids who easily get tempted by the toys offered and involuntarily flock to such restaurants and kids section of super markets offering such incentives. There are restrictive policies in some places to allow including toys only if the foods sold are within certain parameters of nutrition. Now this policy is being expanded to insist inclusion of toys in food packets or restaurant items for foods with high nutritive and health benefits. How far industry will go along with such a paradigm shift in marketing strategy remains to be seen. Possibly to begin with governments can provide financial incentives to manufacturers for making more and more healthy foods in the form of lesser taxes and reimbursing the cost of the toys given away.