The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution has recently revised its chips and crackers manufacturing standards allowing higher concentration of fat in the popular processed food items.
Under the revised standards, chips and crackers can now have 35 per cent fat, up from 30 per cent permitted in the old standards formulated in 2017.
The revision came in July amid a growing global call for curtailing fat consumption to reduce health risks and prevent premature deaths caused by heart diseases associated with high fat consumption.
‘We update manufacturing standards regularly when it is needed to protect consumers’ health and remove obstacles to businesses,’ BSTI standards wing assistant director Enamul Hoque told New Age.
The institution has allowed higher fat concentration even though it lacks a mechanism to determine the fat quality.
It does not have a say about the oil used in frying chips and crackers.
Enamul said that the revision came in response to stakeholders’ demand.
Officially the list of stakeholders of the national standardisation body, BSTI, is long and includes representatives of consumers.
However, the role of the consumers’ representatives is highly debatable as a very tiny portion of them turn up at meetings discussing standards.
The meeting that decided to allow higher fat concentration in chips and crackers was dominated by businesspeople, said institution officials.
Leading businesses have been pressurising the institution to revise the standards for their chips and crackers after their products were announced uneatable at least twice since 2019 for having high fat contents.
‘Clearly regulators gave in to pressure from businessmen in revising the standard,’ said Bangladesh Food Safety Authority member Professor Abdul Alim.
Consuming 35 gram fat in every 100 gram of chips or crackers is a very high rate of fat intake, he said, adding that the fat percentage could easily be kept around 20 per cent had the regulators wanted.
Deep fried in oil, the fat concentration in chips and crackers could get up to 40 per cent, especially when those are fried in used oil by companies to reduce cost.
Repeated detection of excessive percentage of fat in chips and crackers by government laboratory tests signalled used oil was in wide use in the countries by private companies, said BSTI officials.
Deep frying is no longer acceptable in many countries, especially in the developed world, for manufacturing chips and crackers with the invention of the technology known as spray frying, said Alim.
‘Unless compelled, businesses will always care less about public health than their production costs,’ said Alim.
The other drawback of repeatedly using the same oil is the transfat that is created in the process. A global campaign led by the World Health Organisation is going on to eliminate presence of transfat in food.
Globally 5 lakh deaths caused by heart diseases are linked to the consumption of transfat, according to the WHO.
In Bangladesh, heart diseasecaused mortality increased by 62 per cent in 2016 compared to 2005, according to the National Heart Foundation Hospital and Research Institute.
‘The decision to increase fat concentration in chips and crackers is unfortunate,’ epidemiology professor at the heart foundation Sohel Reza Choudhury told New Age.
He said that higher fat concentration paves the way for increasing transfat presence for badly regulated factories that often resort to using the same oil in frying chips and crackers.
Sohel said that researchers had shown that chips available in the market contained excessive fat even when the fat limit was lower.
‘Chips and crackers are highly unhealthy foods. The latest revision will make them even more dangerous,’ he said.
The BSTI manufacturing standards do not prohibit repeated use of oil in frying or set the temperature at which the frying should be done.
The revision also dropped salmonella test from the standards saying that the bacteria cannot survive the temperature at which chips and crackers are fried and thus their presence determination test was unnecessary.
A leading single brand running nearly two dozen varieties of chips and crackers is a testimony to the food’s growing consumer market about which information is very inadequate.
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