WHAT’S ON YOUR PLATE?
It’s not enough to know what to eat. You have to know how to eat it too. Watch out for toxins.
What do upmarket restaurants, Udipi restaurants and street food vendors have in common? Besides the desire to keep their dishes tasty, they use cheap rice to make your favourite idli or dosa. It may not contain pesticide residue, the type which caused the Mid- Day meal tragedy in Bihar, but the chances of such foods having aflatoxins are rather high. Aflatoxin is produced by the mould aspergillus. When present in high quantities in staples like maize, it causes toxic hepatitis resulting in deaths. On the other hand, exposure to small quantities of aflatoxins for prolonged period could lead to liver cancer.
Besides aflatoxins, a variety of other mould toxins also occur in foods such as ochratoxins in coffee, deoxynivalenol in wheat and patulin in apple juice.
Apart from natural toxins, there are other man- made contaminants such as pesticide and veterinary drug residues and heavy metals which pose danger to human health. Recently, Minister of State for Commerce D. Purandareshwari admitted in the Rajya Sabha that in the last three years, the European
Union had increased the number of notifications due to alleged contaminants in food exports from India.
The problem of food adulteration and selling of substandard foods in India is common. This ranges from mixing of water with milk to adulterating mustard oil with argemone oil which has resulted in the deadly epidemic dropsy on several occasions in India. Food additives like food colours over permissible limits could pose a risk to human health. Genetically modified foods and use of nanotechnology in foods are the two emerging issues.
What India today needs is a gradual change in focus from food supply to food safety. India has a long way to go to achieve the food safety standards for ensuring safe food to its citizens, though this fact has been recognised since the time of the legendary Chanakya.
Dr Ramesh V. Bhat International food