Monday, March 2, 2015

Obsession with "freshness" in foods-Unjustified loss of foods is the result!

Is it not strange that a vast majority of consumers will go to any extent to access to the so called "fresh foods"? What do they get by relentlessly pursuing the "fresh" mantra, some times paying prices much higher than that for processed foods? Can it be an obsession that is passed on from generation to generation because of the low population in olden days, lack of processing technologies and plenty of foods available within easy reach ensuring easy availability of ever fresh foods? Or this is nothing but the eating disorder fancifully known as "Orthorexia nervosa" when people over obsessed with pure food lose interest in eating altogether? Other wise how can we explain the obsession of many people with freshly obtained milk from the cow or buffalo, to be milked right in front of them at the farm, ignoring ready availability of dairy milk nearby? This is all the more puzzling because this fresh milk is brought home to be boiled for a long time before use! Same is true with fruits, vegetables and lot of other foods. This syndrome is visible while buying packed foods also with consumers looking closely at the manufacturing date before buying, ignoring those with older manufacturing date! 

Most interesting is the case of vegetables and it is a usual sight to see house wives buying the same from road side vendors believing they are fresh and taking home to promptly over cook them destroying its texture and flavor. After all when these vegetables are used to make dishes the major taste and flavor come from the spices and other adjuncts used rather than that of the vegetables used! Probably people are not aware that to day's technological prowess enables food industry to deliver fruits and vegetables in prime conditions as they resort to cold storage, cold display, controlled atmosphere packs etc and super market can supply fresh produce which can be much superior to that offered by the road side vendor. Usually vegetable vendors get their supplies from the local Mandis where farmers bring them without any preharvest and post harvest precautions, leaving them wilted and "exhausted"! Why is that frozen food industry in India is not able to prosper during the last 2 decades? Frozen food industry is more or less confined to ice cream products with a few ready to "heat and eat" products and the frozen food space occupied in a typical market is practically insignificant compared to the space occupied by main stream products. This industry is paying the price for Indian consumers' obsession with fresh foods or despising of "old" foods!   

The density of refrigerators in the Indian households is fairly high and some of the brands of refrigerators available in the market can rival any foreign markets across the world. Still there are innumerable families not using them for keeping the foods overnight for consumption next day if they can afford. With microwave ovens also gaining foothold in India, habits are changing and many nuclear families do store foods for use later in conjunction with microwave heating. Some of the Indian foods like cooked rice and preparations based on rice are not amenable to storage beyond a certain time and such stored products are difficult to be made tasty " again" in spite of microwave heating. Same is true with wheat based products like roti, bread, uppuma, semia etc. It is a question of compromising a little bit vis-a-vis the eating quality of recooked cold stored foods which the younger generation is learning to live with. Does it portend a change in perception over the next few years? If so the food industry can look forward to better days.

The preference for or obsession with fresh foods, whatever one may call it, is not unique to Indians. According to a recent report emanating from the Gulf countries, it seems tens of thousands of liters of milk, and huge volumes of bread and other perishable food products are being thrown away in countries like Abu Dhabi and Dubai every day because of consumers' attitude towards foods which are not fresh according to their perception. .A large number of people in the UAE are so obsessed about freshness of food that they refuse to buy products dated a day or two before the date of purchase, albeit the products being safe to consume and being well within the shelf life. Out of about 8 lakh liters of milk marketed in UAE every day about 16-32 thousand liters are reported to be wasted because of the tendency on the part of the buyers, probably most of them Indian immigrants, to reject the products processed earlier, with 2-3 days still remaining for expiration. These consumers, who hardly know the implication of their attitude, are paving the way for good food products going waste running to millions of dollars in value. It is least realized by the consumers that In the long run, this can also boomerang on them with hike in prices for the wasted categories of food products becoming a reality. Imagine thousands of liters of precious milk of good quality being dumped in the drains every day in these countries because of consumer weariness in accepting the reality that freshness need not always be associated with quality and good health!  


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