Thursday, August 20, 2009


How about a gadget like the microwave oven which can effectively kill a substantial load of microbes in foods while heating them? Foods, in general cannot be sanitized without use of heat or chemicals which will invariably affect the taste and texture of the product treated. Microwave oven is one of the most useful devices invented by man, after the refrigerator and millions of house wives across the globe use it for heating and cooking a variety of food preparations. But there are many foods that cannot be exposed to heat,if their eating quality is to be maintained. Consumption of raw fruits and vegetables is assuming critical importance in the light of confirmed health benefits such eating practices can confer on the population and obviously the diverse sources from where they are procured make their safety uncertain. Microbiological contamination can take place in the field, warehouses, transportation carriers, handling floors, kitchen refrigerator and dining table. A cut-fruit vending venture in Singapore offers sound and safe quality products up to 5 days after processing and cut surface treatment with a mild acid like acetic acid is known to retard microbial growth.

There are emerging technologies like pulsed electric field, low wattage plasma field, mild radiation etc which do not raise product temperature significantly when treated and in building the gadget they can be helpful. Food preparations in India are mostly consumed fresh and freezing is rarely practiced. There are disturbing reports that vegetables, especially the leafy varieties are grown with sewage water near many metropolitan areas feeding the populations in the cities and one can imagine the load of microbes including the pathogens on such crops. Many house wives believe that once the food is pushed into the refrigerator it stays there safe for days together which is not true. Though there are no serious cases of food borne disorders recorded at the micro level, it could be substantial. Continuous and repeated exposure to mildly infected foods does confer some immunity and this could also be one of the reasons for relatively less reported cases of food poisoning due to microbial contamination.

Pulsed electric field works using high voltage electricity and how far it can be useful in ordinary house holds remains to be seen. Creation of plasma fields with low wattage electric coils for microbial decontamination may be an attractive option which needs to be developed further. Relatively less requirement of power makes it eminently suitable for domestic application. Of course fool proof hardware needs to be designed and past experience in building domestic ovens will help in evolving a decontamination gadget on similar lines. Mild radiation process, not based on radio isotopes but electrically operated also is a candidate worth looking into. Indigenous X-Ray machines are now being made in India and down sizing is what is needed to come up with a small gadget for use in the kitchen. Domestic appliances majors now offering many kitchen gadgets like ovens, mixer-blenders, refrigerators, roti making devices, etc can definitely can come up with a sanitation gadget good for making the raw as well as stored cooked foods safer to the consumer.


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