A health disaster is in the making because of the consumption of foods contaminated with microbial, chemical and other elements, said public health expert Romen Raihan.
He said that authorities should handle cases of food contamination with an iron fist because in most cases it results from negligence to comply with food regulations.
‘It does not qualify as food when its consumption carries the risk of causing diseases,’ said Romen, also an associate professor of Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib Medical University’s public health and informatics department.
He said that the food safety campaign that continued for quite some time failed to generate the expected level of awareness among the restaurant owners.
‘This is happening because the restaurants are unwilling to follow the food regulations,’ he said.
He said that this indifference could cause serious health problems for consumers.
For instance, Romen said, restaurant owners still do not listen to the call of using safe water for preparing foods.
He said that every year thousands of people need treatment for waterborne diseases like diarrhoea, jaundice and typhoid because of the use of unsafe water in food.
‘Consumers need to be aware of how to avoid such foods,’ said Romen.
He suggested that it is better not to eat salad at restaurants for they are most likely infested with bacteria.
In Bangladesh temperature, just 15 minutes are enough for bacteria to grow in large numbers in the salad, he said.
‘Salad should always be eaten immediately after it is prepared,’ said Romen.
Contamination is an unintentional corruption of food quality and can be minimised by adopting good hygiene practices, he pointed out, adding that about 3 million people become sick annually due to consumption of unsafe foods, according to a 2012 Food and Agriculture Organisation report.
Romen said that excessive sweetener, salt and preservative used in the preparation of processed food are another threat to public health.
He said that it was a great shame for educated and affluent people to consider junk food as a symbol of high social status.
‘In the developed countries fast food is the cheapest food,’ said Romen.
He said that in developed countries junk foods are eaten by an economically struggling class of people looking for more calories spending less.
Obesity has more than doubled in Bangladesh since the 1980s and its rapid spread is largely linked to increased consumption of junk foods, he said.
About 7 per cent of adults were obese or overweight in 1980 and it rose to 17 per cent in 2013, according to study.
The environment is another major source of food contamination with heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium enter the food chain from polluted soil.
Lead and other metals continue to be traced in widely consumed foods such as milk and chicken.
Presence of high antibiotic and chromium residues were detected in chicken and beef.
‘Metals consumed over a long time accumulate in the liver,’ said Romen.
‘It can cause cancer,’ he said.
Romen urged authorities to innovate safe technology to produce contamination-free foods.
‘And it has to be done immediately,’ he said.
Want stories like this in your inbox?
Sign up to exclusive daily email
More Stories from Interview