Wednesday, 8 April 2015

Safe Food: From farm to plate

Safe Food: From farm to plate

Prof Dr A Marthanda Pillai

Access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food is key to sustaining life and promoting good health. Unsafe food containing harmful bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemical substances causes more than 200 diseases, ranging from diarrhea to cancers.Foodborne and waterborne diarrheal diseases kill an estimated 2 million people annually, including many children. Diarrhea is the acute, most common symptom of foodborne illness, but other serious consequences include kidney and liver failure, brain and neural disorders, reactive arthritis, cancer and death.

Food safety is about preparing, handling, transporting and storing food to prevent infection and help to make sure that our food keeps enough nutrients for us to have a healthy diet. Unsafe food can lead to poor nutrition as well as illnesses including infections. At one side, a significant proportion of people are still facing scarcity of food while some countries have surplus food, which are being wasted. Foodborne diseases impede socioeconomic development by straining health care systems, and harming national economies, tourism and trade. Food now crosses multiple national borders from where it is produced to where it is consumed. Good collaboration between governments, producers and consumers helps ensure food safety.

Food can become contaminated at any point during slaughtering or harvesting, processing, storage, distribution, transportation and preparation. Lack of adequate food hygiene can lead to foodborne diseases and death. The contamination of food by microbes is a worldwide public health concern. Most countries have documented significant increase over the past few decades in the incidence of diseases caused by microorganisms in food, including pathogens such as Salmonella and Escherichia coli, and parasites such as cryptosporidium.

Chemicals can end up in food either intentionally added for a technological purpose (e.g. food additives), or through environmental pollution of the air, water and soil. Chemicals in food are a worldwide health concern and are a leading cause of trade obstacles.Toxic compounds like lectins are naturally present in some vegetables like potatoes and legumes. Many marine toxins in molluscs and mussels can lead to food poisoning in humans. Other toxic compounds like pesticides, heavy metals and toxins of fungal or bacterial origin could also contaminate food during manufacture, storage or transportation. India’s production of pesticides was 85,000 metric tonnes in 2004, and rampant use of these chemicals has lead to several short-term and long-term effects. The first report of pesticide poisoning in India was from Kerala in 1958, where over 100 people
died after consuming food made from wheat flour contaminated with parathion. Fungal toxins like aflatoxins in food have been related to rise in liver cancers in the country. Inorganic forms of Arsenic predominate in rice and spices, and are a real threat to human health. Remember the outbreak of food poisoning due to epidemic dropsy (mustard oil contaminated with argemone oil) reported from Delhi in 1998 in which 60 persons lost their lives and more than 3000 cases were hospitalized.

Food safety and Nutrition are inextricably linked, particularly in places where food supplies are insecure. When food becomes scarce, hygiene, safety and nutrition are often ignored as people shift to less nutritious diets and consume more 'unsafe foods'-in which chemical, microbiological, zoonotic and other hazards pose a health risk. Under the Integrated Disease Surveillance Project (IDSP) in India, food poisoning outbreaks reported from all over India in 2009 increased to more than double as compared to the previous year (120 outbreaks in 2009, as compared to 50 in the year 2008). This could be due to improved reporting, however the fact that etiological diagnosis was not made in any outbreak, though appropriate samples (food and/or stool) reached to the lab in 18 outbreaks points to the huge gap in our scientific approach to diagnosing and preventing food borne infections

Time is ripethat we change the way our kids eat in schools. Banning junk food and carbonated drinks in schools will set new standards for healthy foods that will make our kids feel better, grow better and learn better and it will improve the nutrition quality of school meals.This is about making sure children have nutritious school lunches and breakfasts every day.

Frying produce a chemical called acrylamide, which has been shown to produce cancer. With increased urbanization and resultant increase in the trend on consuming fried food items almost on a regular basis, especially by our young generation is a matter of grave concern.

Food label literacy is the need of the hour. As consumers, everyone has the right to know the contents of any packaged food item. Biscuits, packed items like bread and breakfast cereals contain hidden salt and sugar, which can produce Hypertension, Diabetes, osteoporosis, kidney stones etc.Encourage locally available fruits and vegetables.We should make it a habit to read and understand the salt and sugar content in any packaged food item before we purchase.

It is in this context that World Health Organization’s theme for this year’s World Health Day, which falls on 7th April -‘food safety’-, assumes importance. Let the message of this year motivate governments to improve food safety through public awareness campaigns and highlight their ongoing actions in this area and encourage consumers to ensure the food on their plate is safe, all the way from the farms

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