IT IS an undeniable fact that human survival relies on the availability of safe food. When food is contaminated with microorganisms, it, therefore serves as a major threat to public health and safety. There are various other factors that need to be considered in food safety along with microbial hazards, which include physical and chemical hazards, the latter leading to long-term consequences on humans.
Chemical products such as antibiotic, pesticide residue and phyto-products are used in growing crops. Food adulteration, which has become common in recent times, refers to intentionally altering the quality of commercially available food through the use of low-quality substances or the removal of important ingredients, all of which are against government regulations of the country.
Various scientific research have identified the significant role of food and water as a vehicle for bacterial and fungal diseases. Numerous studies have showed the deteriorating microbiological quality of foods in Bangladesh, be it packet foods and spices or fresh raw foods. One has to wonder how the citizens survive when they are consuming toxic substances. Contamination can be a result of waste water, dirt and dust, human and animal waste, or of mishandling during storage, transport, distribution and processing.
A recent study, the results of which are published in the Biocontrol Science (Vol 21, No 4, pp 243-251, 2016) titled ‘Bacterial and Fungal Counts of Dried and Semi-Dried Foods Collected from Dhaka, Bangladesh and their Reduction Methods’, examined the quality of foods, particularly spices and herbs sold in packets. This study found that spices, herbs and semi-dried fruit had microbial the presence within the range of 102 to 106 colony-forming units per millilitre (CFU/mL). Another study published in the Bangladesh Journal of Microbiology, titled ‘Microbial and Fungal Loads of Raw Foods collected from Dhaka, Bangladesh and the Effect of Heat on it’s Growth’, also reported large presence of fungus and bacteria in raw foods ranging from 103 to 105. This is a cause for alarm as many fruit and vegetables are eaten raw. Adulteration is not limited to raw food from markets; restaurants have also been found to use food colours, hazardous chemicals and to have poor hygiene. Mobile court raids on restaurants in Dhaka city have confirmed the findings, leading to authorities to develop strict standards of food safety and move towards ensuring that consumers in Dhaka have access to safe food.
While important nutrients and vitamins are received from food, its deteriorating quality can lead to various diseases and it can negatively impact health, affecting the productivity of the nation as a whole. Strict enforcement of hygienic practices is required to maintain the quality of food at all levels. Regulation of food availability, accessibility and use should be developed and strictly followed. Local vendors should be taught and trained in proper methods of handling food, which includes cleaning and storage. This is an issue of public concern as it affects health, made more pressing by the recent incentives of the government to regulate and monitor food safety as well as reprimand of those who are involved in food adulteration. Widespread knowledge of the state of food will not only create awareness, but also ensure that government actions have a greater impact.
Dr Farahnaaz Feroz is associate professor and chair of the microbiology department in Stamford University Bangladesh.
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