Monday, June 24, 2013


The eternal debate about the safety and environmental problems associated with production and consumption of genetically modified foods seems to be getting more and more vitiated with both protagonists and antagonists taking up extreme positions unlikely to be reconciled in the foreseeable future. Both sides have marshaled their own "facts, figures and fictions" to score over the other side. What is missing in this monologue between the two sparring parties is utter disregard for the right of citizens to know what he or she is eating from a sealed food packet! Though many countries have either banned or restricted the use of GM food ingredients in consumable products marketed within their borders, there is a single exception, that is the US which refuses to recognize that GM foods may not be 100% safe and acceptable. It is sad that more than 80% of the food products in the US market do contain one or more of GM ingredients and shockingly this happens without the consumer ever knowing about the same. The present President of the US does not seem to be in a hurry, if at all he has any intention, to even mandate the industry to at least declare the presence of GM ingredients, if used, on the front of the pack label.

It is to break this inertia on the part of the federal government that a progressive state like California, due to the prodding of consumer activists took the ballot initiative for discerning the views of the citizens in the first week of November last year. In a puzzling development the results were completely shocking with slightly more than 50% of those who voted not finding it necessary to label food packets containing GM ingredients! This was in contrast to the findings of early sample survey studies which found that more than 80% wanted to make such declaration mandatory in the state. What turned the tide, according to dispassionate observers, was the false and misleading campaign by the perpetrators of GM technology involving more than $ 45 million expenditure to influence the thinking of the citizens and con them to vote against the proposal.This should be a lesson for all others regarding the financial and political clout of the GM lobby, fighting against whom may be a Herculean task.

The failure of the California ballot initiative that would have mandated labeling of genetically modified foods may not be a death knell for those seeking nationwide labeling because they pin their hope on President Obama as he is seen to be supportive of labeling. Still, efforts to force changes at a federal level could face an uphill climb because only a ballot victory at least in one of the states can trigger action at the federal level. There are new such state labeling initiatives which are planned for Washington state and Oregon. Antagonists are sparing no efforts to force change at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, which has primary regulatory oversight for food and food additives. A citizen's petition is pending with the agency demanding a re-examination of its policy against labeling of foods that contain genetically modified ingredients. More than one million people signed on making it a record as the most ever for a petition to the FDA. Probably the Californian ballot initiative did make more people aware of the issues surrounding GM foods.  If recent reports are any indication most average folks are well educated about this issue. 

To add strength to the campaign for forcing GM food producers to declare use of GM ingredients on the front of the pack label many organic and natural food companies, environmental and consumer groups have joined the movement recently and the issue cannot be ignored that easily any more. According to the strategists spear heading the action program filing of the petition in October 2011 was the first step which would be followed by a federal law suit against the FDA. The California measure, had it been approved would have provided leverage for the federal effort and therefore the 53 percent to 47 percent defeat in progressive California is considered a setback. The crux of the matter is that the American food , Drug and Cosmetics Act of 1938 is being too narrowly interpreted by FDA and treats modern-day GMO technology in a way that does not comply with the intent of the law to protect consumers. Genetically modified crops, which have had their DNA spliced with genetic material from other species, have been around for 16 years. Popular biotech crops can survive treatments of weedkiller and are toxic to insects that feed on the crops. And most processed foods sold in the United States contain some GMO corn, soybeans or other crops. The petition by the activists calls on the FDA to declare that molecular or genetic alterations are "material" changes relevant to consumers. 

The FDA's current policy, set in 1992, holds that foods derived from genetically modified plants were "substantially" equivalent to those produced through conventional means. The combination of FDA's failure to mandate pre-market safety testing and its permissive labeling policy has meant that silent changes to the food supply are tested on the public without their knowledge. Most members in the scientific community are frustrated because the industry and regulators are disregarding numerous studies showing harmful impacts from GMO crops. It was only recently that more than 70 scientists, academic researchers and professors declared that "corporate influence" was stifling research that finds negative implications connected with GMOs and they further aver that labeling of GE (genetically engineered) foods is not a question of whether, but when. Against such a sordid background there is a silver lining which heralds a new beginning for those fighting against GM foods and that is the overwhelming legislature support for a law in the tiny state, Connecticut, mandating the industry to compulsorily declare on the label presence GM ingredients in the food products manufactured and marketed within the state. Probably other states will also promulgate such laws that can have a snow balling effect at the federal level. 

Saturday, June 15, 2013


"Heart attack" is a much feared "two words" as millions of people across the world fall prey to this disease with high fatality potential. In spite of tons of literature which claim that the reasons of heart attack, also called Myocardial Infraction (MI), are well known, from time to time serious questions are raised regarding the present state of knowledge about this scourge. Over weight, Obesity, Cholesterol, Saturated fat, Trans fats are all being indicted as the villains for causing MI but the ground reality is that no single factor has yet been proved conclusively that will cause the disease. This does not mean that one can violate the existing dietary guidelines evolved based on lot of scientific data and the theory of probability.
The relation between cholesterol and heart attack is well established as the former creates arterial plaques through stubborn deposits on the walls of the arteries thus narrowing down the effective diameter of the blood vessels near the heart. Logically heart needs to pump the blood with more strain in people having such plaques, determined usually by non-invasive techniques like Angiogram or scanning and such strain on the the heart is supposed to cause seizure of the cardiac muscles causing irreversible damage. World has more or less reconciled to surgical intervention like Angioplasty, heart by pass operation etc to deal with medical problems associated with atherosclerosis. Though preventive measures that include prudent dieting to exclude saturated fat, trans fats, high cholesterol containing food components in the diet and restricting red meat are well known, human weakness for rich foods and low will power to control the food intake invariably lead to atherosclerosis. There is also the genetic factor which can cause health conditions vulnerable to heart disease but still appropriate diets and physical exercise can alleviate the danger to a significant extent.
The eternal debate between carnivores and herbivores regarding the advantages of plant foods centers around the fact that red meat is a rich source of cholesterol and regular consumption of saturated fat rich meat can increase the blood cholesterol levels leading to arterial plaque build up. Though this may be factually correct, there is still some  question as to why cholesterol is not metabolized in the body as it is a biological compound necessary for fat metabolism and is produced in the body. The concept of bad cholesterol and good cholesterol is still an accepted one and the ratio of HDL (high density lipoproteins) to LDL (low density lipoproteins) is widely used to monitor the heart health by many doctors. Even this established concept is under a cloud as a result of newer studies which question this theory. In the midst of these uncertainties, one thing is sure-that by-pass surgery or Angioplasty which opens up the arteries in CVD patients do bring relief from symptoms of Angina Pectoris and extend the life span very significantly.
Latest revelation that high levels of saturated fat or cholesterol in the red meat cannot be entirely blamed for heart disease is going to put some of the present thoughts on CVD under a cloud. According to these studies saturated fat and cholesterol play a very small role in causing heart disease and the blame has to go some where else. It is averred that meat consumption causes the bacteria in the intestine of regular meat eaters to generate a lethal chemical from one of the unique amino acids present in meat called Carnitine which leads to conditions ripe for heart disease. Carnitine is a fuel for some species of microorganisms present exclusively in the intestines of carnivores and in the process they produce a lethal chemical called Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO) which causes the heart attack. The studies clearly brought out the connection between red meat, carnitine, bacteria, TMAO and heart attack in no uncertain terms. While vegetarians did not show any TMAO in their blood, carnivores had consistently high levels of this chemical. It is the TMAO which facilitates formation of plaques from cholesterol and in the absence of TMAO cholesterol is likely to be metabolized in the body. 
One of the outcomes of the above studies is the safety of the widely prevalent consumption of some of the products containing Carnitine which athletes and sports persons consume for enhancing their performance. While those not used to meat consumption may be relatively safe from the possibility of TMAO formation due to likely absence of TMAO forming bacteria in their guts, there is a greater chance for meat eaters to generate TMAO in their body which my have deadly consequences. Food safety authorities must frown upon the practice of the industry in marketing products containing carnitine to save precious lives!   
These observations are ground breaking in that it opens up a new avenue to tackle CVD through methods that can eliminate the bacteria which converts Carnitine to TMAO. Unfortunately so far there is no clue as to the identity of these bacteria and any antibiotic therapy can be developed only if scientists get a clue regarding their characteristics and metabolic profile. One of the species of microbes called Acinetobacter spp is reported to have the ability to form TMAO from Carnitine and Lecithin but considerable further studies only can throw more light on this area. Of course there will be many questions that will be raised about the universality of the above observations but this is going to be an area which will receive increasing attention from scientists across the world. Probably the day is not too far when meat eaters can safely eat this food with no guilt or fear of the consequences in the form of arterial diseases.  
Having praised the above studies for the new trail blazing revelations, an unbiased observer cannot help asking a simple question as to why some of the vegetarians shunning meat as well as egg are also prone to CVD though their intestine does not contain TMAO forming bacteria and they do not consume Carnitine rich foods? Beef is the richest source of Carnitine. about 100 mg per 100 gm, though pork meat also contains about one fourth to one fifth of that present in beef. As for vegetarians Milk is a minor source of this amino acid (about 2 mg per 100 ml) though it is consumed in large quantities regularly by most vegetarians. The million dollar question is whether there is another TMAO like substance in plant foods that facilitates plaque build up in them? Very inconvenient question which no body can answer for the time being! 

Wednesday, June 12, 2013


Contrary to the strong belief that plant foods are less vulnerable to contamination with bacteria and virus, an analysis of food poisoning episodes due to pathogens during the last one decade clearly shows that they can be equally at risks as the meat products are in contracting infection from the field. Too much attention to animal farms, abattoirs and poultry farms by the safety monitoring authorities probably ignored the potential for microbial contamination of plant foods from the growing areas through water, soil and manure. It was rather startling to note that almost half the food poisoning episodes in the world originated in plant foods like leafy greens, cantaloupes, mangoes, strawberries, peanuts, walnuts and others causing significant mortality among consumers. This situation probably calls for a more vigorous study to get a better insight into this reality. 

The cultivation practices and the farm land locations do contribute to the vulnerability of agricultural crops to microbiological contamination. Inputs like water, and manure can be critical in maintaining freedom from pathogens while proximity to animal and poultry farms and sewage processing facilities makes the plant crops doubly susceptible to cross contamination with high probability. If the cultivated area is near to forest areas visits by animals during nights cannot be entirely avoided and their fecal droppings are a strong source of microbes of different types with varying pathogenicity. There is also the possibility of pathogens getting on vegetables and fruits in processing facilities where they are cleaned up and packed for distribution to super markets. Storage and distribution facilities if not properly sanitized frequently can cause cross contamination. In the absence of reliable traceability regime it may e next to impossible to pin point the source of contamination.

A revealing fact is that in most contamination episodes with fruits and vegetables the pathogens are found mostly on the surface though no studies have ever been carried out to find out whether these bacteria are present inside also and if so how deep they are inside. It will be a terrible tragedy if contaminating organisms find their way inside the plant and the crops through the root system. After all the fields where plants are grown can have billions of microorganisms belonging to hundreds of different species, most of them benign but some highly pathogenic. It has  to be remembered that the deadly E.coli O157:H7 strain which caused many poisoning episodes during the last few years originated in the field where soil was contaminated with fecal droppings of animals like deer and pigs. In spite of so many studies taken up to find whether disease causing bugs like bacteria and viruses can really be absorbed by the roots to be ending up in edible parts of the plant, no evidence had surfaced which support the theory that they might enter the plant under right circumstances.

It is true many bacteria show an ability to migrate towards the roots of many plants but they stay just there without migrating into the internal parts of the plant. Yet they do posses the potential to spread to other external parts of the plant during harvesting and cleaning. This is the reason why new food safety laws being enacted in some countries stipulate that for ensuring safety of fresh produce it is imperative that pathogen free water is used for irrigation and washing, the equipment and machinery deployed do not harbor pathogens and the farm workers are provided with clean water for washing their hands clean during all farm operations. In fact growing of organic foods is an ideal model for main stream agriculture community to emulate for keeping their produce free from disease causing microorganisms. Probably world is moving slowly to a stage where fresh produce which are consumed without cooking are grown only under strictest environmental and field conditions that will not give any scope for contamination with bacteria like Listeria, Salmonella and E.coli O157:H7.

When food borne diseases are discussed there is a unique creature that causes more than 60% of food poisoning episodes which has not received much attention at the hands of food microbiologists and this is the ubiquitous Noroviruses which can contaminate foods during handling stage. It was recently discovered that these viruses have the uncanny ability to contaminate surface areas of fruits and vegetables and normal washing may not be that much effective in getting rid of them easily. This is all the more true with leafy greens like spinach and lettuce which have many openings on the leaf surface called stomata for regulating transmission of gases and water vapor. The guard cells which are located on the surface of the cells can be penetrated easily by viruses,  provide a safe place for the viruses especially when there is a film of water on the surface. Standard washing procedures are not effective in gorging them out and if the contamination density is high, such consignments can cause poisoning episodes when sold in the retail market. Probably in such cases prevention is better than cure and there is no alternative but to guard against contamination at every stage of handling them to exclude incidence of Norovirus contamination.                    

Wednesday, June 5, 2013


Who does not like a freshly fried food or a snack made by deep fat frying? Most humans have a weakness for preparations made by using high levels of oil and higher the oil content more tasty would be the product though health wise such foods many pose dangers in the long run. Interestingly foods with high moisture content, if fried at lower temperatures for a shorter time, may not contain too much adsorbed oil while dry products during frying process have a tendency to get infused with the frying oil thereby raising the oil content in the end product. Scientific basis for such an explanation is that in high moisture foods during frying the water gets evaporated high temperatures creating an internal pressure by the steam which comes out in force and oil has no chance get into the product if the residence time in the fryer is not too long. In contrast dry foods already have cavities pre-existing within their matrix where oil can get in fast and easy. This is the reason why most snack making plants deploy centrifuges to extract free oil from inside the product. 

The debate regarding the importance of fat as a calorie source in preference to carbohydrates is a never ending one but one thing that is certain is that high levels of  fat in every day diet can lead to increased body weight and eventuality to obesity. Of course if heavy physical activity is practiced every day, body fat can get burned and it is nothing but common sense to understand the basic principle of eating and its consequences. If calorie intake is more than calorie expenditure, the body has to store the excess calories through fat deposited in different parts of the body. Sadly the food manufacturing industry has discovered that most human beings cannot resist the temptation of foods containing high sugar and fat and very little control can be exercised while choosing foods. Besides psychologists are unanimous in their opinion that fat, sugar and salt are addictive food components like alcohol and tobacco.

One of the reasons for frequent visits to restaurants by people is the number of choice of tasty fried foods available which are not made at home regularly. Many kitchens in western world shun frying in their kitchen because of the mess that is created by the hot and smoky oils during frying. If fast food chains have become landmarks in developed countries, the reason is the same that their foods are palate tingling and irresistible to avoid. Even young kids ought to be brought up in a healthy eating environment but fall for the unhealthy products from the fast food joints and the processed food industry because of their easy availability and often at low prices. It is next to impossible to make them eat nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, wholegrain foods, milk, etc in their every day diet. One of the reasons health pundits advocate reducing intake of fried foods is that most frying oils tend to cause atherosclerosis and consequently heart disease and stroke with tragic consequences over a period of time. Except some oils like that extracted from Mustard, Palm fruits and kernels, Coconuts, Peanut, Safflower, almost all others are not fry-stable causing generation of undesirable artifacts at high temperatures and repeated heating.

Frying is an interesting process in food technology where the temperature of the oil is raised to high levels around 200C for fully frying the product to get the desired texture and flavor. If the heat stability of the oil is low, temperatures as low as 165C can also be used to get a fully cooked end product. It is always the dilemma of a Chef as to what temperature he must use to prepare a product to reduce as much as possible oil uptake by the end product, considering that the market price of oils can vary enormously. Ideally every Chef would like to use an oil like Olive oil but it is not practical because of the high cost of this fancy oil. Many choose Palm Oil which is considered the cheapest oil in the global market thanks to the tremendous production in countries like Indonesia and Malaysia. Oils derived from Soybean, Rape seed, Maize germ, Sunflower seed, Safflower, Sesame and rice bran are also widely used. In some cultures Coconut oil is the preferred choice though its peculiar flavor is not liked in most countries. 

The oil used in frying process can degrade in quality, the rate spoilage being proportional to the extent of unsaturated fats present in it and the severity of the temperature deployed for frying. Common fryers like deep fryer, pan fryer, Chip fryer etc can have no control over the heating process and oils can deteriorate rapidly. To some extent these undesirable changes can be prevented by using modern equipment like Vacuum Fryers or Pressure Fryers which, of course need higher investment. The deterioration will be more severe if the oil is repeatedly heated and cooled over a period of time. Oxygen present in the air reacts with the unsaturated fatty acids creating highly reactive oxy radicals and other undesirable artifacts, some of which have been proved to be toxic. High frying temperatures can also break down fats into smaller molecules which cause many other problems like excessive foaming. Polar compounds and polymerized products of oxidation have been proved to be injurious to human health. Frying of starch containing foods is known to produce the carcinogenic artifact Acrylamide. In view of these evidences, oils are not allowed to be used repeatedly for frying and discarding them after using it in the fryer is always considered a wise policy. Many high class restaurants and snack food industry dispose off the heated oils which are supposed to end up as a waste. In reality this does not happen as oil is a high value material in great demand and used oil invariably finds new users who smell money in this "waste" !

When oil is subjected to repeated heating, it becomes dark in color, starts smoking, foaming, generates unpleasant smell, creates undesirable rancid taste, increases viscosity etc, unacceptable to the consumer. While large scale manufacturers of snack foods deploy fryers with multiple controls to regulate the temperature and the frying time, it is the unorganized sector where small scale, semi skilled and illiterate cooks make the products using their "experience" and "hunch" and who unknowingly contribute to very significant damage to the oil. Emergence of oil protectants like antioxidants, chelating agents and a variety of adsorbents of polar chemicals formed during frying prolong the life of frying oils very significantly but even here its life is not eternal, requiring replacement at regular intervals. In countries like the US or the European Union fried oils are never reused for food preparations, invariably ending up ass a biofuel. Recently there were reports that fried oil is fetching a higher price in the market than that commanded by its virgin counterpart! Fryer oil is also used extensively in power generation, household heating during the winter season as it burns clean without any significant carbon foot print and as automobile fuel with no pollution. Carbon monoxide is virtually nil when it is burned. No wonder recycling of fried oil has become a become business world over.

In India and China the recycled oil business is almost a parallel industry gnawing at the seams of the main stream edible oil industry. Of course it can be more aptly called an underground operation being carried out under the very nose of the food laws authorities and it has patrons, millions in number spread all over the country who are food artisans, vending their foods on the road side and small scale unlicensed eateries. These clients find it extremely convenient to buy the used oil supplied to them by unscrupulous processors who buy their raw material from large restaurants for reprocessing. Basically reprocessing involves filtration and decolorization in rare cases. If reports are to be believed recycled oil can be sourced at half the price of virgin oil which presently sells at around Rs 80 per liter in India! Those who use the recycled oil justify their action because oil constitutes a large chunk of the cost of the food they make and according to them if they are forced to shun these oils, they will have no alternative but to raise the prices of their preparations to levels unaffordable to most of their clients! What a justification for demolishing the population through slow poisoning!

Take the case of China where it is reported that recycled oil use is more rampant than that in India. It is a shocking revelation that one out of ten low end restaurants in China uses "Gutter Oil" for preparing their foods, a form of recycled oil which is the worse form of oil one can imagine. Most Chinese dishes are heavy in oil content and imagine the long term consequences for a population fed on such products! Gutter oil is made from discarded restaurant oils from the organized sector, drains, grease taps, slaughter house wastes, discarded animal parts, low grade animal fat. internal organs, skin portions of animals etc. The process of making it includes filtration, boiling, refining, removing adulterants and packing. As the major raw material viz, "the Fryer discarded oil" costs less than $ 900 a ton, the business is indeed fantastic as the reprocessed oil is in demand for prices beyond $ 1500 a ton! It is a mystery as to why an autocratic government like that in China where punishments can be severe and swift is allowing such criminal activities by a section of the industry which jeopardize the health of its citizens.

How can such despicable acts by the fraudulent oil trade be minimized if not curtailed in absolute terms? As some observers believe, it may be difficult to control these nefarious actors unless there is massive vigilance deploying thousands of personnel and severe punishments are given swiftly without allowing the fraud cases to linger on for years in the judiciary. On a long term basis Government will have to address the problem of critical edible oil shortage in the country during the last 3 decades on a war footing by shifting its focus from cereals to oil seeds production.     

Saturday, June 1, 2013


Here is an interesting piece of news coming from Delhi which is both intriguing and paradoxical. Intriguing because the Parliamentary Committee has not made any suggestion as to how hot food can be supplied in packed condition and paradoxical because packed foods supplied till a few years ago were discontinued on a clamor for fresh foods.  

"Taking note of the increasing complaints about the food served under mid-day meal scheme in schools,a Parliamentary panel has suggested distribution of packaged food to children. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on HRD has asked the Ministry to "explore the feasibility of providing packaged nutrition food in conformity with norms and standards of the scheme". This may be done initially on a pilot basis in some selected districts to ascertain its viability, it suggested. The food cooked in schools for children has come under the scanner especially on hygiene and quality. Reports indicate that even in Delhi, quality of food being served in schools was found to be wanting in norms and standards prescribed under the programme. If the situation is such in the capital, what would be the position in interior could well be imagined," the committee, headed by Rajya Sabha member Oscar Fernandes, said. The panel also drew the attention of the working group which had suggested roping in the Food and Nutrition Board to provide training to teachers and cook-cum-helpers and for regular monitoring of food safety among others. One of the particular concerns of the committee was that hundreds of schools were lagging behind in meeting the infrastructure requirements, including construction of kitchen cum-stores, under the Right to Education (RTE) Act. The deadline for meeting these requirements had ended on March 31. According to ministry reports, of 9.55 lakh kitchen-cum- stores sanctioned between 2006-07 and 2012-13, only 5.99 lakh or 63 per cent of them have been constructed".

Some of the comments made by the Committee are relevant and must be followed up. But the suggestion to explore supply of packed foods is fraught with many complications. It was during nineteen seventies that the state of Karnataka implemented a project to manufacture ready to eat nutritious food called energy food with 360 calories of energy, 16 gm of protein and a host of essential vitamins and minerals in a 100 gm portion to be provided to every school coming child in all its schools. This product was developed by the internationally acclaimed Central Food Technological Research Institute, Mysore and five factories were set up to make about 25000 tons during a school year sufficient to feed 1.25 million children a day. As this product had no commercial value pilferage was hardly a problem with the entire production reaching the targeted beneficiaries. Precisely for this reason there were motivated criticism against energy food and the state government bowing to the pressure of the vested interests closed all the 5 factories with absolutely no justification at all. Two decades after this sorry episode, the Government of India is trying to revive the concept of packed foods having realized the folly of cooking foods in the premises of the school fraught with umpteen number of problems. 

Midday school feeding program is, no doubt, a sound concept the major objective being enhancement of school admissions and improvement of attendance. It is sad story that in spite of massive funding, by the government, about 8.5 million kids still do not go to any school and school attendance on an average does not go beyond 50%. What a colossal waste of human resources! Though the literacy rate in the country is about 70% there are states like Manipur, Uttar Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Jharkand where about 40% of the population remains illiterate! There are reported to be about 0.8 million schools in the country under the government control most of which are ill equipped to impart any quality education. Government and its experts feel that food will attract more children to the schools but even if food does attract them what type of citizens will emerge from such schools without teachers, class rooms, toilet facilities, provision for potable water etc so essential for imparting education? 

Under the above pitiable condition, is it not madness to introduce cooked foods for serving in hot condition to each and every child? Do all the children need food at the school as many of them coming from well to do families do not consume the school cooked foods? Where do these schools go for accessing to clean water as most rural areas do not enjoy protected water supply? Is it not true that the hot food supply scheme is vulnerable to food poisoning and other diseases because of foods made by people ignorant about hygiene and sanitation? Who ensures that food is cooked without exposure to the elements as most schools do not have decently equipped kitchens? what about the wastage due to some children absenting and others not coming to the school? How do these schools insulate themselves from food inflation as many vegetables, edible oil, pulses and other inputs are priced high in the market depending on the season of the year and demand supply pull of a dynamic market? Fruits can never be supplied because the cheapest fruit papaya itself costs upward of Rs 20 per kilo! 

Of course the above questions are tough to answer and government just gloated over these issues before jumping into the hot food wagon landing into innumerable logistical and safety problems. Ideally all consumers, whether young or old like hot foods but this desire needs to be compromised depending on the situation. In the case of schools the environment and the conditions obtaining in most of them are not congenial for cooking any food in a satisfactory way requiring many compromises including adverse effect on the kids who eat these foods. How foolish it is for the Government to invest millions of rupees on building kitchen facilities while the more critical teaching infrastructure is in shambles! What is the purpose of setting up a school? Can the focus of the teachers be diverted in managing a cafeteria which after all requires lot of time and skill which are lacking as far as these hard pressed teachers are concerned. How are the teachers going to be assessed for their performance, the academic performance of their wards or the quality and quantity of foods made to feed the children? Parliamentary Committee is right in asking for a shift from freshly cooked foods to packaged foods and GoI should not lose any more time in heeding to this well considered suggestion.

It may not be proper to ridicule all those NGOs who might be doing a good job as far as providing hot food to many children in thousands of schools across the country. For example ISKON organization with its avowed objective of serving humanity has contributed immensely in this area after accepting responsibility in some states. Its high tech cooking facility and distribution management can be the envy of any established caterers in the country.According to its claim it is serving about half a million kids through its Akshaya program and is planning to expand its coverage to 2 millions a day by 2020. There are a few other organizations also active in the field but even in the best managed system, feeding fresh foods is a logistical nightmare vulnerable to mishaps any time. One of the justifications for freshly cooked food being offered is that the food preference among children varies enormously and one type of product served in schools in one area might not be liked in other areas and therefore local cooking has the flexibility of varying the menu tailoring to the local taste preferences.