Friday, January 9, 2009


Growth of the mobile telephony in India is one of the highest in the world. With half a dozen desi and foreign companies dominating the market, the average ownership is estimated at one cell phone for every 5 persons which is awe some considering the extent of poverty that is prevalent to day. A cell phone is a personal gadget carried along by individuals for sole use of the owner and not shared by others. There are numerous designs of cell phones offering several advantages and different features. The communication infrastructure as we have to day based on wireless network, can be the envy of many other countries. But widespread use of cell phones may be fraught with some dangers still requiring confirmation. The Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) of radiations emitted by the cell phone sets decides the radiation hazard posed by these gadgets. Habitual users are presumed to have risks of 34 to 240% in contracting acoustic neuroma, a type of tumor of the nerves that control body balance and hearing in human beings. While rich nations have set up limits of 1.6 to 2 W per Kg weight as safe limits, India does not have any limits for such radiations.

The recent revelation that cell phone hand sets can harbor pathogens is startling and deserves further detailed consideration. First report on this originated from UK where it was shown that Clostridium and Staphylococcus species were colonizing the cell phone hand sets of doctors in some hospitals and the infection is brought home by these doctors with potential to spread the infection. Same doctors using infected handsets can be instrumental in passing on this infection to other patients also unwittingly. Despite the strict hand washing protocols that exist in all modern hospitals, spread of infection through cell phone sets, especially in hospitals may be difficult to stop altogether unless the manufacturers come up with designs that can stand known disinfection procedures currently in vogue. Clostridium difficles causes serious diarrhea while Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) resistant to most of the broad spectrum antibiotics causes serious skin and soft tissue infections and fatal pneumonia in patients in many hospitals across the world.

Will there be any impact on food industry due to wide spread use of cell phones? With the cell phone use percolating down to the working class level, many industry labor personnel are presumed to be carrying the gadget into the factory and since they come from different home environments with varying degree of microbial loads, there could be some impact on safety of processed foods. This will be more acute in case of retort pouched foods as frequent process standardization will be necessary to factor this unpredictable consequences. Probably barring the entry of cell phones into the factory area may be feasible and once the personnel sanitize themselves they should not be allowed access to their cell phones till they leave the premises. Alternately same sanitation procedure must be insisted on as being done after visit to the toilet. The situation is not alarming yet but can be a potential issue in future for which industry must be prepared.


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