Packaged Food Testing and Analysis – Essential for Food Safety Ecosystem

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The use of ingredients in packaged foods has been a point of concern over the years. Multiple regulations and committees have been brought into place to dig into the standards and their conformity. It has also been pointed out that an average Indian’s consumption of salt, sugar and fat is higher than what is the recommended threshold. In fact, studies found that it is processed food testing that contributes to 10% of daily calories of an Indian.

Keeping this in mind, FSSAI had taken a step recently. The amount oftrans fatty acids (TFA) in oils and fats was capped to 3% for 2021 and 2% by 2022 by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The current permissible limit is 5% but trans fats are associated with increased risk of heart attacks and death from coronary heart disease, hence the amendment. In fact, as per the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 5.4 lakh deaths take place annually. This is also why WHO has called for the global elimination of trans fat by 2023.

This is a major step to regulate public health. While this is a concern addressed by FSSAI, there are multiple other ingredients that need to be kept in check. A lot of processed foods contain simple sugars which can be very harmful for blood sugar and can cause major fluctuations in the same. What basically misleads is that these sugars are listed under various names and to a consumer it is something that cannot be interpreted. He consumers end up consuming much more sugar than intended. They might be listed as maltose, sucrose, lactose, brown syrup and so on which are not perceived as sugars by consumers as they are unaware. For example, some granola bars rich in protein contain a lot of sugar, and one can be fooled into thinking that they are healthy. Another pressing issue is of fats. While products are labeled as low in fat, they contain other harmful ingredients which are bad fats. They are a heavy strain on the liver and can do more harm than good.

We consume much more salt than is healthy due to processed foods. According to the US FDA, the consumption should be less than 2300 mg everyday but it exceeds the desired levels manifold.  Salt happens to be a cheap preservative which is why it is so popularly used. What is interesting to note here is that processed food has an extended shelf-life and does not spoil easily. Food which is perishable in anyday healthier than the one that is not. So automatically, processed food possesses a lot of concerns.

Use of preservatives, food colour, flavouring agents, additives and so on are mentioned on the label but in terms not understandable to laymen. Hence, just like trans fat regulations, a lot many need to come to ensure that health standards are adhered to.