It is common news that often appears about wastage of food. However, wastage of food due to spoilage led by improper storage from the time of harvest till it is either processed for consumption or used is quite high. Starting from vegetables and fruits at one end of the chain going across to grains is a common feature of spoilage due to improper storage.
With poor transport facilities to carry freshly harvested food ingredients till it reaches the nearest sale point mandies or local markets or place of storage for longer periods studies have documented as much as 20% spoilage in this short journey. Post this journey storage in the mandies in open areas exposed to sun, air, light, heat, before being sold causes as much as 50% more wastage depending on nature of the food ingredients. As usual it is not intended to give too much of statistics.
Preserving food ingredients through-out its journey and during period of sales is of paramount importance. While based on scientific research, technologies have been developed to prolong shelf life of food ingredients this sector, involved in storage and preservation of food ingredients, seems to lack well documented guidelines, education and training of all personnel involved in the whole chain, keeping records of the facilities and compliance to the guidelines seems to be absent.
Being a pharmacist by qualification this writer finds glaring lacuna in this area. There are well defined guidelines for Good Distribution and Storage Practices (GSP) for pharmaceuticals as part of Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) issued by World Health Organisation. The GSP has gained attention across the globe and also in India. This writer has con-ducted studies on extent of deterioration of medicines when stored improperly and published the results. A survey of awareness, knowledge, practices, labelling and understanding of label texts related to storage conducted more than a decade ago revealed problems across the sector involved from the manufacturer of medicines till the pharmacists in the drug store.
The pharmaceutical industry under-took a number of measures to improve the situation. Readers of this column may visit the site of Delhi Pharmaceutical Trust (www.delhi-pharmtrust.org) where these details and a GSP guidelines document developed is available. A similar guide-line was not seen in a search related to food ingredients sector in India. Industry for various reasons takes ad-equate care when it comes to pack-aged foods and applies as much care as possible for packaged food products across the chain. A similar approach does not seem to be in place for food ingredients.
A literature search on this area throws up a number of research studies on shelf life of food ingredients in their raw form unprocessed or minimally processed stages and even studies the impact of additives and treatments to prolong the shelf life. A number of technologies have been reported to improve keeping qualities of food ingredients. Extensive studies on low dose gamma radiation and safety of such treatment has been proven and such technologies have been approved and notified for use by foods authorities.
For many years such treatments and their cost was subsidised by food processing industry ministry. One estimate of a study showed as much as Rs 13,500 crore loss of fresh food ingredients due to improper storage alone. The government has stepped in to reduce and minimise this loss by providing technology, finances and various other supports to establish gamma radiation facilities for foods under public private partnership models and India now has more than 30 such facilities. Use of this technology for spices, medicinal plants, traditional medicines, dry fruits and a number of other food ingredients have been approved and notified already.
The other technology for food preservation in a temperate country like India is cold storage and transportation under cold chain. Cold storage is yet another investment intensive technology both for creating the facility, maintaining the same and recurring expenses for running it with public supplied energy or self-generated energy. Due to this deterrent factor investments in such facility were rather limited to government sector only and that too very limited facility existed in the country.
In this context it is very heartening that the government plans to set up 100 new cold chain projects at a cost of about Rs 12,000 crores and has kicked off the process to invite investors to set up 6 new mega food parks. This will boost farm to fork linkages and boost income to farm sector. Last two years has seen as much as Rs 9,000 crore investments in new cold storage capacity in India, reducing spoilage of food ingredients by more than 10%. It is not very simple to set up such large cold storage facilities and some amount of new technologies would be required to set up energy efficient cold storage facilities.
Adequate cold chain transportation facility does not exist even in the pharmaceutical sector and less said the better for farm sector. The latter is also a voluminous sector needing transportation of large volumes across long distances. This part needs equal attention.
The Drugs Controller General of India a few months ago constituted an experts committee to draft for adoption and implementation of Good Distribution and Storage Practices (GSP) for medicines. Many pharmaceutical associations often conduct training programmes on GSP especially to the pharmacists and chemists involved in distribution, wholesale and retail sale of drugs. Since regulations for this aspect is not easy for food ingredients and food products, the Foods Authority may also consider and develop guidelines and strategies for Good Storage of Foods.