Monday, August 30, 2010
Friday, August 27, 2010
While promoting breast feeding during the last three decades, major attention was focused on the immunity the child gets from its mother through her milk. Of course hundreds of research reports have cited other health advantages for the infant to be fed with breast milk as long as it is possible, though the high pressure promotion by the infant food manufacturing industry often tempts mothers to switch over to infant formula too soon. The accumulated evidence so far regarding the multiple advantages of breast feeding will be a driving force for many mothers to stick to her own milk to safeguard the health of their tender children from many types of diseases.
The role of Lactoferrin present in milk, acting literally as a natural antibiotic active against many pathogens, has been well documented. Similarly the ability of Alpha Lactalbumin to annihilate all types of cancer cells protects the vulnerable child against these dreaded diseases. Lactoadherin, a glycoprotein in breast milk is reported to be active against rotavirus in the intestine. Milk prostaglandin, unique to human milk has a role to protect the delicate intestinal mucosa of the child from harms way. There are nitrogen containing oligo saccharides present in human milk having growth promoting effect on the beneficial Lactobacillus bifidus bacteria.
It was only recently that carbohydrates other than Lactose started receiving attention of the nutritionists and probably lack of precise analytical techniques must have obscured the role of these lactose based oligo saccharides which form the third largest component in human milk. Values as high as 8-12 gm of oligo saccharides per liter have been reported in human milk. Using modern analytical tools it has been brought out that depending on individuals, number of such oligo saccharides may vary from 33 to 124. Earlier a broad group of lactose linked compounds was known to be existing and they were broadly grouped under the name gynolactose. They have been compared to the modern day"soluble fibers" which are supposed to act at the Gastro-intestinal level without actually getting digested in the system by human enzymes and breast milk thus can rightly claim also as a source of "dietary fiber" to the infants.
According to the present belief each oligo saccharide ligament inhibits different pathogenic bacteria and probably it is an act of evolution that only human milk contains these special compounds, to provide protection to the babies as soon as they are born from many of the predating microorganisms. The ability of these bioactive substances for allowing selectively the growth of Bifidobacterium longum, a particular strain that can coat the linings of the intestine of the child for resisting many undesirable bacteria, is now being recognized. Besides their role as bacterial inhibitors, these Lactose oligo saccharides also act as substrates for many beneficial bacteria in the infant colon and contribute to the vital difference in fecal pH and fecal flora between breast fed and formula fed infants. Sialic acid, considered essential for brain development, is formed in the intestine consequent to the action of beneficial bacteria on oligosaccharides of human milk.
The above findings probably will open up new avenues for the food industry to develop or modify infant formulae that can work best for premature babies and those delivered through surgical intervention. Such a logic is premised on the fact that these babies do not have Bifidum bacteria to start with and hence are deprived of the early protection from the oligo saccharides. Search for alternate sources of Lactose oligo saccharides probably will intensify because of its preeminence as a protective "nutrient" to infants. Recent discovery that whey, a by-product of cheese industry, does contain these nutrients in small quantities may give a new phillip to developmental work to "beneficiate" whey for recovery of Lactose oligo saccharides in sufficient quantities and evolve viable technologies for the same. Already fructose oligo saccharides and galactose oligo saccharides isolated from plant sources are being promoted under the pro-biotic banner, as they do aid in the growth of Bifidum bacteria. Of course such scientific activities must not give the impression that breast milk can be substituted with any formula man may contrive.
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Monday, August 23, 2010
Saturday, August 21, 2010
Thursday, August 19, 2010
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Sunday, August 15, 2010
Coffee is a much valued stimulating beverage known to human beings for hundreds of years. It is generally brewed with hot water to get a beverage that can be consumed with or without milk. World-wide over 7 million tons of coffee are produced annually by a dozen countries and major producers include Brazil, Vietnam, Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India and Mexico, almost 30% of production accounted for by Brazil. The drinking habits of coffee vary from country to country but broadly these beverages are made from roasted and ground coffee beans followed by extraction with hot water. A decent brew can be made by either boiling the coffee powder with water or steeping in hot water or by pressure extraction. While western palates relish a coffee without milk, in countries like India coffee is invariably drunk after whitening with milk.
Coffee aroma is made of over 800 organic substances and end flavor will depend largely on the variety of beans, extent of roasting and extraction method. In India coffee connoisseurs prefer dark roasted coffee powder and strong brew for getting full enjoyment. Traditionally in rural areas and in low income population house holds, coffee brew is made by boiling the powder with water and decantation of the supernatant. Use of coffee filter is prevalent in many house holds of the southern India which consists of an upper filter chamber and a tight fitting lower collecting cup. The decoction so obtained is considered excellent in terms of color and aroma. Indian Coffee Board, once enjoying monopoly for procurement and auctioning of coffee beans, was in the fore front in promoting coffee in the northern tea belt of the country but with its role increasingly being curtailed under the free trade philosophy of the country. To day many consumers have neither the time nor the inclination to go through the decoction making "ritual" that is so closely associated with good coffee and rely entirely on instant coffee products available readily in the market. Coffee making contraptions, whether electrical or manual are used to a limited extent in India, though in developed countries they are a regular fixture in many kitchens.
Soluble coffee or instant coffee is manufactured in the country by two major multinational companies with practically no competition from others. The process involves pressure extraction of roasted and ground coffee under pressure with steam which yields more than 50% soluble solids making the manufacturing a profitable business. Traditional extraction does not yield more than 20% solids because of single extraction with hot water, the temperature never exceeding 100C and loss of volatiles is minimum under such conditions. A comparison in cup quality between beverages made from instant coffee and filter coffee will bring out the fact that soluble coffee process causes a significant portion of volatiles to be lost. But consumer is still accepting this product because of the convenience factor. "Three in one" coffee available in some countries is based on soluble coffee, whitener and sugar and the product, though of high convenience, is not liked by regular coffee drinkers because of incipient taste and flavor. Coffee bags, similar to tea bags, are relatively new entrant to attract consumer attention but except for the convenience, it cannot compare with normally made coffee beverage.
Coffee pods, now becoming popular, have a sizable market with practically all the coffee majors offering them to the consumer under their brand names. The list include some of the big names in coffee market such as Starbucks, Folgers, Senseo, Keurig, Nestle, Mars Inc, Cafitaly, A Modo, Mio etc. and in spite of the fact that these pods require appropriate preparation gadgets to get coffee brew, they seem to be growing in popularity, probably because of the convenience factor. Coffee pods are prepacked and sealed plastic cups with their own filter and ready to brew powder inside and are used in special machines where they are punctured at the top as well as the bottom for infusion with steam generated in situ. The brewed coffee drains into the glass mug positioned below the pod. The pod is discarded as it is a single use cartridge type product. Since the pods are hermetically sealed, the chances of the aroma, being lost are low and some manufacturers even flush the pod with nitrogen before sealing. Also flavored coffee pods are also possible using different flavor blends. One of the problems facing the coffee pod manufacturers is the large volume of waste generated though attempts are being made to find alternative recyclable pods which of course presents another problem of collection logistics from the premises of the users.
Friday, August 13, 2010
Thursday, August 12, 2010
Without joining the issue on the desirability or otherwise of allowing foreign retailing players into India, it can be safely said that the local stores which are supposed to be affected by the dominance of large retailers do not seem to be too much concerned and on the contrary they are bound to be benefited because of their strength in "personal service" and loyalty from their customers. Besides they can always access good quality products from from the big retailers in metropolitan areas for stocking their shops in remote rural areas where the big fishes may have very little interest. In stead of criticizing such initiatives, there is every justification for encouraging such wholesale market players in different regions of the country which is bound to strengthen the local retail traders in a significant way.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
A ray of hope is emerging with the involvement of private sector in assessing the quality of a restaurant, beginning in Delhi because of the imminent Commonwealth Games. These private players are aiming to do something concrete so that foreign tourists get foods of international standards in food safety and hygiene during this period. The new program,under the banner 'Safe Food Destination', has been launched by the consultancy TQS Global Management System under which restaurants can voluntarily get themselves registered under the program for an year. Auditing and Monitor teams of the TSQ is assuring the restaurant owners that they would help them in maintaining food safety by educating staff through workshops, interaction and consultations. Under a scoring system a restaurant has to obtain a minimum of 40% in order to obtain a food safety certificate from TQS.
Basic facts regarding food safety practices involved in buying good quality raw materials, safe handling methods, precautions in storing, cleaning up of the facilities, personnel hygiene etc are expected to be dinned into the ears of the staff. The agency would be awarding the marks which is expected to go up every time its auditing team comes for inspection. A 75% mark will translate into silver grading, 85% getting golden while 95% would be eligible for the highest grade of platinum. One of the remarkable features of this scheme is the provision for some form of a consumer insurance which is new in a country like India which entitles the consumer to prefer limited claims towards any mishap or illness arising out of food safety issues in TQS registered outlets. This can be expected to give some peace of mind to the consumers as he is insured against any health injury arising out of food borne disease which puts only limited liability on the restaurant. In case of illness after eating at a registered member's restaurant, TQS will probe the incident and if found guilty of violation of safety norms, the registration is liable be cancelled. Unlike FSAAI's scheme, the agency claims that many restaurants in Delhi are registering with them for the program.
The initiative by the private sector is indeed laudable and it must be encouraged by the government. TSQ has good credentials as a quality management player with successes achieved in other countries like Bulgaria and Maldives in this area and even if FSSAI wants to continue with its own scheme, the private sector must be allowed to continue the operation which should be taken as complimentary to strengthen safety assurance programs in the country. Such programs must be extended to all over the country, though the movement may be some what slow to begin with. Probably more organizations in the private sector need to be roped in for such a system with pan India foot print. Even if the private ventures do succeed eventually, it will still have limited spread as only high end restaurants may be able to afford the certification system which costs about Rs 50000 for registration leaving more than 80% of the restaurants out side the ambit of such voluntary surviellance. The responsibility of the government to enforce safety standards in this segment still remains and the infrastructure for fulfilling this obligation must be strengthened.V.H.POTTY
Thursday, August 5, 2010
India continues to be an intriguing country when it comes to food and hunger. On one hand there are millions of its population supposed to be starving because of food shortage. But if the gross production of food grains is taken into consideration, the per capita availability is more than adequate to meet the energy needs of an individual as per international health norms. Unfortunately the skewed storage and distribution realities combined with inadequate purchasing power with a substantial part of the population affects adversely regular access to the foods available in the market. Added to this the market manipulations by the traders and middlemen continuously escalate the food prices as reflected by the inflation presently experienced in the country.
Thanks to the Green Revolution India became one of the largest producers of wheat, a stark contrast to the old PL-480 days, when imported wheat made up a significant portion of wheat availability. If per capita consumption rate is taken into consideration the country produces sufficient food grains for the entire population. As the production is heavily dependent on Monsoon rains there were shortfalls in production periodically necessitating imports to some extent, at prices much higher than the local procurement price, expending precious foreign exchange. The past experience does not seem to have taught any lesson and the present production glut is again posing serious logistical problem to GOI in saving the grains from spoilage. The situation is probably desperate which seems to have provoked the Supreme Court of the country to wonder whether these surplus grains should not be distributed to the poor and hungry in the country in stead of allowing to rot in the open. Probably such an approach may help relieving the food inflation currently hovering around 16% due to insufficient quantity circulating in the market. It appears that, while the learned judges felt that wasting even a single grain is a crime, the insensitive political class probably is not that much concerned about the unfortunate situation prevailing in the country.
A critical look at the present grain scenario brings out the startling fact that the government agencies vested with the responsibility of grain procurement in the country is holding about 59 million tons (mt), mostly wheat and rice, under their custody, a quantity sufficient to meet the needs of more than 15% of the population for a period of 12 months. While the existing grain storage facilities can hardly hold about 42 mt, remaining portion is stored under temporary, improvised storage facilities, commonly known as CAP storage where tarpaulins over the grain sacks provide some protection from the elements. As per the food security norms and the buffer stock policy of the government only 20 mt of food grains are to be held perpetually for meeting unforeseen future contingencies. Ban on exports of food grains in 2007 also contributed to this food surplus situation and any revocation of this ban can have an inflationary effect on world food grain prices. If critics are to be believed about 10 mt of these grains are likely to be lost due to rotting, infestation and other vectors.
The above unenviable situation seems to have put the government in a great dilemma as to what needs to be done. It already has a scheme to distribute rice and wheat at vastly reduced prices to those families branded as Below Poverty Line (BPL) but whether all the deserving beneficiaries are receiving their share is a matter of speculation given the poor management, monitoring and accountability associated with grain distribution. Though the Cricket-obsessed Food Minister has declared his "plans" to introduce RFI tagging system to improve the distribution, when this will happen remains to be seen. Building of storage infrastructure for food grains should have been taken on a priority and present pitiable condition is the result of years of neglect of this infrastructural need. The graphic image of food grains rotting outside a warehouse in Jaipur while liquor was being stored inside is still fresh in the memory of many discerning citizens literally causing revulsion at the situation brought about by the inefficient management of grain storage and distribution in the country.
Probably government may have to go for some sort of a Private-Public Partnership in boosting the storage capacity without further loss of time. Private sector is sure to come to the help of the government provided long term commitment is made to use their storage structures guaranteeing them a minimum return on their investments. The cold storage industry in the private sector has large capacity built over the years for commodities like fresh produce, largely potato, apple, fruits and vegetables, spices and condiments and other perishable items and there does not appear to be any dearth of business for them. Resorting to CAP storage developed years ago for temporary storage of grains in places where vast areas are available with concrete flooring cannot be a long term solution because of many logistical considerations. Not only it requires frequent fumigation to keep away infestation which can destroy the quality in no time, if not properly protected, its vulnerability to pilferage can be a serious handicap.
It was not many years ago that India was in a similar situation with surplus food stocks and one of the options considered then was to use them for converting into alcohol for industrial use but this option was not exercised for some reasons. Another suggestion was to move them to cooler climates near the foot hills of Himalayas, probably an over ambitious scheme considering the lack of infrastructure for the transport and the likely cost involved. As is usual with the government, every thing is forgotten once the crisis passes till yet another arrives. Hopefully the current serious situation may yet spur the government to create additional grain storage facilities like Silos and Concrete ware houses which after all permanent assets of the country.
In the survey conducted by FICCI,"Respondents felt that the courses offered by various institutions are outdated and it was imperative to review the course curriculum to match industry expectations. "The government should immediately formulate a task force of all the stakeholders...to get the course curriculum across all institutions and training institutes reviewed and updated," it said. The chamber also felt there was a need for immediate adoption of ITI's by the food processing industry in various clusters to upgrade the lower-end skills. Besides, the government should allocate separate budget for human resource development for the sector for enhancing and upgrading skills, it said. The food processing industry should partner with food technology/processing institutes on a pilot basis for up gradation of higher-end skills, it suggested".