Friday, September 9, 2011


Every nation, big or small, on this planet has a responsibility to look after the welfare of its population and this includes the protection of its citizens from the undesirable consequences of sale and consumption of unsafe and indifferent quality food. Agencies like ISO, WHO, FAO etc are striving hard to weave a universally acceptable and synchronized food regulations which can facilitate free trade in foods. Food science is a dynamic subject that provides adequate foundation for surveillance of food production, processing and distribution and new knowledge generated through sustained research continuously is enabling the surveillance agencies to deploy more and more sophisticated and reliable techniques to fulfill their responsibility.

Recent food poisoning episodes in Europe involving E .coli contamination of sprouted Fenugreek or in the US caused by Salmonella poisoning of ground turkey meat convey a clear message that there is no room for complacency when it comes to food safety and eternal vigilance is a pre-requisite for reducing as much as possible major incidences of safety breach. Fortunately most of food related episodes are confined to meat eating countries and meat happens to be a major source of many pathogenic organisms. Many poultry farms and abattoirs are guilty of indulging in hygienically unsound practices resulting in uncertainties in the quality of final products delivered to the consumer. High quality infrastructure and experienced technical personnel in adequate numbers have not been able to completely stop food safety breaches in countries that boast of high economic standards. Useful and reliable technologies like gamma radiation continue to be sidelined and food poisoning episodes are here to stay for a long time to come.

When it comes to developing countries the most pressing food safety concern seems to be man made as the markets are flooded with deliberately adulterated food products with dangerous consequences on the health of the citizens. Statistics, even if not very reliable, put the growth rate of the food adulteration industry at about 20% reflecting the insufficiency of the policies that govern and implement food safety monitoring system. Take the example of India where a brand new food quality and safety Act has been made "operative" from the first week of August this year but unfortunately every thing remains same as before because of insufficient infrastructure, gross shortage of technical personnel and the tortoise paced judiciary set up. Most of the food testing facilities in the country are sub par as far as competence and functioning are concerned. Wide scale corruption in the safety monitoring system allows fraudsters to get away with murder! The yearly convictions of food culprits, about a few hundreds in a country of 1.2 billion population tells its own story. Average citizens are perplexed by this gross negligence on the part of the government which seems to have the least priority for food safety related activities, except for paying the usual lip sympathy. The archaic statistics system that is totally unreliable gives the government the luxury to maintain that every thing is "honky dory" as far as food safety is concerned since there are practically no reports indicating any mortality due to food poisoning!

Probably smaller countries like Sri Lanka, UAE, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand Nepal and others have a better track record when it comes to food safety surveillance and deterrent policies. India has company in China which has become the global capital for adulterated foods and this may be giving the GOI the cold comfort that huge population makes it difficult to implement effective safety policies! Look at the recent development in Nepal where the government there is introducing a mobile lab system that can go around to test food products from food handling establishments with least delay. Interestingly the mobile lab has bee designed in Thailand which had most of its food technologists trained in India during nineteen seventies and eighties and paradoxically Nepal's food sector has many Indian trained personnel manning the operations there. It is good to see the trainers being overtaken by he trained ones when it comes to food safety infrastructure!.
According to available details the mobile lab is to be equipped for checking adulterations in edible products and conducting basic antibiotic and pesticide residue tests, water tests and microbiological tests. Hopefully the safety agency should be able to take immediate action against those found compromising with the food standards. Added to this the mobile facility will have some modern communication gadgets that will enable carrying out food safety education programs to consumers. With a staff compliment of three , presently undergoing training in Thailand, and many sophisticated tools for conducting tests, the mobile lab will be have a force multiplier impact on the adulteration detection and deterrent action. It is time others too learn a lesson from this tiny country.

No comments: