Is ready-to-eat-food a hit?

Survey says consumers hooked to packaged food; experts differ

Published: 09th August 2012 08:39 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th August 2012 08:39 AM   |  A+A-

packaged-food

The safety of processed and fresh food has not improved in the last two years especially in the cosmopolitan cities. A recent study reveals that Bangalore has fallen prey to this new food habit, considering the fact that it is a growing city.

According to a study by Underwriters Laboratories (UL), a non-profit product safety testing and certification organisation, top consumer concerns with regard to processed food are chemical additives, food-borne illness and hygienic conditions to the contradictory belief of the Indian consumers that product safety has improved.

Packaged food is not an old concept and has in fact, been in our society from time immemorial. Today, packaged food consumption is an essential ingredient of our life.

Starting with the morning cup of tea or glass of milk, the cereals or rice mix used for preparing breakfast to wheat during lunch, snacks, sweets - everything comes in a box for the superfast generation.

However, Chetan Hanchate, a food consultant disagrees with the study findings. He said, "Absolutely packaged foods are safe for consumption. Packaged food is not a new concept but today it comes with a modern trend and different function to perform. If packaging was harmful, many people would have been crippled with illnesses.”

“Science and technology has improved to such an extent that it stores the nutrients in a manner that the food remains are as fresh as it would have been. In fact, packaging helps in transportation of the food and other ingredients like cheese to remote places. Otherwise, such products may not have been available in such places. The only difference is that some are ready to eat and some are ready to cook. In the US, they have more of what’s ready to eat but in India we have what’s ready to cook,’’ said Hanchate.

Handling of issues like transportation, packaging and maintaining hygiene has been put under scrutiny after strict compliance of Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 which was brought into force exactly a year ago.

Underwriters Laboratories says that today women no longer can afford to spend hours in kitchen preparing three meals a day, hence, packaged food has witnessed a rising trend, an easy alternative without knowing the harmful effects attached to it.

India's packaged food industry is likely to touch 30 billion by 2015. These foods makes it quicker and easier to prepare a meal, but it is important to understand the hazards associated with activities such as product packaging, food handling and food storage.

According to Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, many people were stricken by the effects of Bisphenol A. It is a hormone-mimicking toxin that has also recently been found to impact our DNA and kill off female ovarian cells in a way that may cause down syndrome and fertility problems in future generations, which was found in packaged foods which is destroyed by simple cooking like boiling. Lalitha, a nutritionist says, “Today, the only thing that comes raw is fruits and vegetables, so, we cannot entirely discard all the packaged food. However, as far as junk and fried packaged food are concerned, it is very difficult to ascertain its sanitary conditions as they all come with a doubt. Something like bread from a highly reputed company has issues with hygiene level, in fact, a local bakery may produce much more fresh and healthy bread and I have witnessed this myself. The only option for the consumers is to check on the nutritional content, for instance if you want to consume a fruit juice, go for the ones which is rich in anti-oxidants like guava and grapes. One needs to spend a little more thought and time on making a choice.’’

All Food Business Operaor (FBO) below Rs 12 lakh have to get themselves registered, from road-side chat sellers to vegetable vendors. When we spoke to the BBMP chief health officer, Manjula, she said, “We do look after the packaged food items but only until a complaint is brought to our notice.’’

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