|Life Sciences - Life Science Article|
|Written by Varun Sharma|
|Monday, 18 May 2009|
MICROBIAL AND CHEMICAL FACTORS INVOLVED IN DETERIORATION OF FOOD QUALITY: AN OVERVIEW
Foods consumed by man and animals are ideal ecosystems in which bacteria and fungi can multiply. The mere presence of microorganisms in foods in small numbers however, need not be harmful, but their unrestricted growth may render the food unfit for consumption and can result in spoilage or deterioration. Knowledge of the factors that either favour or inhibit their growth is therefore, essential in understanding the principles of food spoilage and preservation. The present paper enumerates the various aspects of microbial and chemical factors involved in the deterioration of food quality.
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The safety of food is essential for the health and well being of man, and its quality for his satisfaction. If quality and safety are to be assured, good practices must be used in the growing and post harvest handling of crops, the processing, packaging and distribution of the foods derived from them, and in their storage and preparation prior to consumption.
Most food-borne diseases are microbial in origin, but a bewildering array of biological and chemical contaminants can make food either inedible, dangerous to eat or lethal. Mycotoxins produced by fungi cause illness and numerous deaths every year, and leads to the loss of substantial amounts of food. The ever-increasing complexity of modern industrial society and the wide-ranging nature of the international food trade have increased the risk of the contamination of foods by chemical and biological agents. The contaminants may arise from environmental or industrial pollution (e.g. mercury, lead, arsenic), from agricultural technology (e.g. pesticide or veterinary drug residues) and from food processing practices (e.g. nitrosamines, polynuclear hydrocarbons). If any portion of the food chain should become contaminated, the contaminant is likely to enter the human food supply, presenting a potential hazard to human health as well as an impediment to food trade.
Scientific advances and better knowledge through research have supported older and newer technologies alike in their ability to ensure the safety and quality of the processed food supply. Unfortunately, the tools created for this purpose are not always available or applied, especially in less highly industrialized countries. Microbial contamination of food is long known to have been a serious problem in developing countries, whereas contamination by chemical residues including traces of heavy metals and radioactive elements has been documented more recently.
Food quality is also determined by nutritional value. Another group of scientists, the Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Nutrition, keeps this aspect under review and recommends minimum requirements of energy, protein, minerals, vitamins and other essential substances that should be supplied through food to the human body.
These activities promoting food quality and safety at the international level must have their counterparts in every country. Governments have a lead responsibility with respect to food quality and safety in that they determine the fiscal, legal and technical environment in which the food producers and industry operate. Well-equipped laboratories, a competent inspectorate service, operating in the context of a sound body of law and regulations, and rigorous methods of sampling and analysis of foods are essential to an effective food control service. It must have analysts who are well-trained in the sciences, especially chemistry and microbiology, and inspectors who are fully conversant with the principles of food science and technology, hygiene and sanitation. FAO has assisted developing countries in all parts of the world with the establishment or strengthening of their food control services infrastructure or operations, with particular emphasis on training of inspectors and analysts, and by issuing manuals of food quality control.
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