Tuesday, August 12, 2008


The remarkable technological achievements of IT sector and space exploration world over have created a euphoria that technology can do any thing man wishes. To some extent it is true but many a time the limitations of modern technologies are glossed over. It is rarely realized that technology is like a double edged sword and its use is often governed by the user. It can be very destructive when used in wars and human conflicts but can perform a variety of functions beneficial to mankind. Just like atomic research which led to development of lethal atomic and hydrogen bombs as well as fission controlled reactors to generate power that drives the industrial society of to day to a very significant extent. Same is true of food processing technologies too. Tremendous technological developments in the last 4-5 decades have changed the life style of the people all over the world by providing a host of convenient and new products with high palate gratification. Technologies like canning, modified atmosphere storage, transport and packing, freezing, retort pouch processing, freeze drying, mechanized baking and frying and many others have placed in the hands of the industry unlimited power to provide foods the way the consumer wants.

Having said this, can the food technologists, the torch bearers of new technological innovations and driving force behind the modern food processing wonders, look back with satisfaction that they are doing what is good for the society? To day's consumer is often confused regarding the health implications that emerge by application of technologies in every sphere of food he consumes. Application of chemical fertilizers in the production field, wide scale use of poisonous protecting chemicals, enhancement of production using hormones and other biological stimulants, genetic modification of plant foods for increasing the yield, pre-harvest spraying practices to control harvesting time, washing and cleaning chemicals in the packing sheds, pretreatment of crops like fruits, vegetables, and many other easily perishable horticultural produce, use of synthetic packaging materials for food contact applications, use of many chemicals during processing, incorporation of processing aids in the product for a variety of end results, etc may be justifiable purely from a practical angle. Consumers often ignore that there is an overseeing agency with required competence and authority to ensure the foods produced by the industry are safe. The entire food technology is based on the perception that food needs to be preserved minimizing the wastage at least cost and most effectively without risking the health of the consumer.

Different consumers have different perceptions regarding the role of food technology and increasingly negative images about processed foods are emerging without any reason. Globalization of foods, crossing national barriers and faster and wider dissemination of news regarding some of the undesirable aspects of food handling could be contributing to the above trend. The emergence of 'green' movement which advocates environment friendly actions by all the industry created an entirely new class of foods called organic foods which are raised in natural conditions without using any chemicals and consumers are increasingly flocking over to this segment of foods because of fear about health hazards associated with modern technological prowess. Added to this is the wide spread adulteration of foods mostly by unscrupulous traders which also raised fears in the minds of consumers regarding the safety of packed foods. Ignorance about the benefits of modern technologies is widespread and the MoFPI of GOI could have done much better by creating such awareness at least in the urban areas where people are more receptive to logic and reasoning.

Consumer may be justified in raising the eye brows about the impact of food technology because of many health scare concerns raised by nutritionists regarding the health implications of many processes that are in vogue to day. In search of more appealing foods grain milling has ended up making less nutritious white flours leaving the vital bran, one of the good sources of dietary fiber, to the cattle. Same is true with many other areas like edible oil extraction and refining, white rice, refined white sugar and products based on it, HFCS based products, use of chemicals and antibiotics as processing aids, artificial colors and flavors, toxic artifacts like trans fats and acrilamides, white bread and maida based products, variety of junk foods, high fat containing foods, etc. The feeling that health value of a food is inversely proportional to the development of technology is slowly emerging and this needs to be arrested.

To the defense of food technology it must be said that it offers what the market demands. To day new and better foods are being created which are also health supporting. The commercial production of atta, the whole wheat flour is an excellent example. There are a number of foods in the market with low calories or low carbohydrates or high proteins or fortified with dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids like w-3 acids, predigested forms of foods, range of products without use of preservatives and others that are health-friendly and can be consumed with absolute safety and assured health benefits. If many of the health compromised population is living a normal life to day, the credit goes to food technology which has created specialty foods targeting these consumers. Low calorie and low fat foods against obesity, sugar free products for diabetics, low sodium items for hypertension segment, parenteral emulsions for GI tract ailments, allergy free foods are some of the examples of food technology earning its right as the savior of humanity. Salute the food scientists, technologists and engineers who made this possible.


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