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Don’t fear a Delhi belly
Health consciousness goes beyond hitting the gym every single day; it’s about what goes into your stomach. Team Viva explores the different aspects of food safety with experts
In these days of social media, the consumer response to food determines how well or badly a restaurant does. Feelings are vented by showering praises or heaping scorn on a food item and one bad review, even if uninformed, on a platform can make or break a business. During a talk on food safety at the Oxford Book Store, corporate chef at The Roseate, Nishant Choubey, talked about the perilous impact of instant noodles-type opinionating and how once he was at the receiving end himself when a customer threatened him with a bad review. But he insisted his method of preparation was safe and proper and he wouldn’t bend his ways to compromise food quality.
Bad reviews are just one aspect of the food business, food safety being one of the primary things that has to be looked at. Delhi is known for a lot of reasons; its infamous Delhi Belly, which even inspired a movie, is one of them. Cleanliness, hygiene and food safety are ways to ensure one doesn’t suffer from it. “When it comes to relying on the quality of our food, be it the ones on sale in the supermarkets, the one we buy from our local sabzi mandis or the food that we eat in restaurants is based on trust”, says Saurabh Arora, founder of Foodsafetyhelpline.com.
What constitutes food? We constantly worry about the nutritional value of our food, we selectively pick and choose the things we fill our shopping baskets with. Arora clarifies, “There is a very thin line that separates what can be classified as food and what can’t be. Ayurvedic medicines, protein supplements and vitamin supplements fall outside the category of food, whilst water, beverages, honey and chips are all considered to be food.” Food does not fall under the food regulation guidelines that exist in India during the period in which it remains under the farmer’s control. However, as soon as it enters the processing stage, it is subject to regulations.
The Food Safety and Standards Association of India (FSSAI) was introduced in 2006. Arora explains that in between the producer and consumer, exists the Food Business Operator (FBO). “This refers to any individual who comes after the farmer in the supply chain and is involved in processing, manufacturing or selling food. This could be a transporter, the canteen wala or the golgappa vala. On the other hand, multinational companies such as Nestle, Heinz or Coca Cola are also FBO. A licence is essential for an FBO to operate.”
Excessive use of impurities like pesticides and heavy metals are always in the news and an area of concern. However, Arora feels that the eminent danger at microbiological level is that pathogens, crop-contaminating elements and antibiotics will make their way to our food. There have been instances where antibiotics have been found in honey. The regulations that existed before the FSSAI was put into place had neglected the microbiology of foods. He further adds that adulteration, although not as big a problem, is still rampant. Adultration refers to the addition of a food item in order to increase the quantity of food item in raw form or prepared form, which may result in the loss of actual quality of food item. Nowadays, even the non-intentional addition of extraneous substances to food is becoming a worry. With regard to packaged foods, the problem lies in using too many food additives. These are substances added to food in order to preserve flavour or enhance its taste, thereby making it fizzier, tangier or even last longer. At the end of the day, these are all chemicals. Fortunately for us, the FSSAI closely monitors the levels of these in all food substances.
The food business has the responsibility of ensuring that safe and healthy food is distributed to its customers. The regulating authorities such as FSSAI, the consumers and food businesses all have to work together towards a successful and self-regulating supply chain of food.
Thankfully, the people in charge of processing our food know the drill. They’re able to best judge what is healthy for us and what is not. According to Choubey, “There is ample awareness about food safety laws.” He says his restaurant does not compromise on the quality of raw material provided by the suppliers. “The chicken that we receive must be refrigerated rather than stored floating in water. I’m not sure how hygienic or pure that water is, so why should I accept chicken that’s been stored in it?”
Choubey advises his staff to follow certain rules. The first is ‘clean’. Upon his insistence, his team members keep washing their hands for as long as it takes them to sing the ‘happy birthday’ song. The song is an indicator of how long they should wash and rinse their hands. “Ideally, we should wash our hands every twenty minutes. Neither our workplace, nor our homes should be dirty. Keep disinfectants close at hand. Secondly, separate your food items. Don’t cut fish with meat, or fish with vegetables,” he says. Choubey advises against shortcuts. Butchery should be done separately. He says that even when you go shopping, you should carry two baskets — one for dry grocery and the other for vegetables.
There are precautions to be taken while cooking as well. “You must have heard of the food poisoning incident that took place in a very reputed hotel. The staff had been served food from the buffet. This had raised a lot of eyebrows because we had presumed the debate over preserving food for as long as possible in order to lower food costs was a thing of the past. Apparently not. Now, it is mandatory for any hotel or restaurant to throw away food that’s been kept for longer than four hours in a buffet,” he says.
Also, he elaborates on the need for serving food at the right temperature. “Hot food must be served hot and cold be served cold. For food to be served cold it needs to be lower than five degrees Fahrenheit and hot food is characterised by being above sixty-three degrees,” he says.
Choubey’s last rule is regarding “chill.” This refers to the process of refrigeration. “Chicken and fish must be kept in separate, vacuum-packed shelves,” he says.
Dr Pawan Vats, vice-president at Auriga Research, explains the concept of making claims on food. “Food claims are a sensitive issue and must be substantiated in the form of scientific data. The total number of calories per 100 gm of the substance, total protein, total carbohydrate, sugars, and total fat content must be stated before any claim can be made.” Even the langar and prasad distributed in gurudwaras and temples have to follow FSSAI regulations.
Clearly, the need to obsessively worry over the contents of our food is a thing of the past. If things weren’t going so smoothly, there would have been calamities every other day. This is not the case right now. So, we are in safe hands.
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