Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Food preservation by radiation processing

Food is vital for human existence. Conservation and preservation of food is essential for food security and it provides economic stability and self-reliance to a nation. The need to preserve food has been felt by mankind since time immemorial. The seasonal nature of production, long distances between production and consumption centres and rising gap between demand and supply have made this need even more relevant today. 

The hot and humid climate of a country like India is quite favourable for growth of numerous insects and microorganisms that destroy stored crops and cause spoilage of food every year. Spoilage can also occur due to chemical and physiological changes in stored foods. Sea-foods, meat and poultry may carry harmful microbes and parasitic organisms that cause illnesses associated with their consumption. 

As in other parts of the world, India has also practiced various methods of food preservation such as sun drying, pickling and fermentation which were supplemented with more energy consuming techniques such as refrigeration, freezing and canning. 

Each of these methods has its merits and limitations. Man has always been in the search for newer methods to preserve foods with least change in sensory qualities. Radiation processing of food is one of the latest methods developed for this purpose. Food Technology Division (FTD) of the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre (BARC) is involved in the research on food preservation through radiation.

Radiation processing of food involves exposure of food to short wave radiation energy to achieve a specific purpose such as extension of shelf-life, insect disinfestations and elimination of food borne pathogens and parasites. 

In comparison with heat or chemical treatment, irradiation is considered a more effective and appropriate technology to destroy food borne pathogens. It offers a number of advantages to producers, processors, retailers and consumers. Though irradiation alone cannot solve all the problems of food preservation, it can play an important role in reducing post-harvest losses and use of chemical fumigants.

Know-How and Technology Transfer
  Expertise and know-how for designing, fabrication and commissioning of irradiators is available in the country with the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and BARC. In India commercial food irradiation could be carried out in a facility licensed by the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB). The DAE has set up two technology demonstration units in India. 

The Radiation Processing Plant at VashiNavi Mumbai, mainly meant for treatment of spices, dry vegetable seasonings like onion flakes, and pet foods, is being operated by the Board of Radiation & Isotope Technology (BRIT). KRUSHAK (Krushi Utpadan SanrakshanKendra), Lasalgaon, was set up in 2002 by BARC, to demonstrate low dose applications of radiation such as control of sprouting, insect disinfestations, and quarantine treatment. KRUSHAK became the first Cobalt-60 gamma irradiation facility in the world, outside US, to be certified by USDA-APHIS forphytosanitary treatment enabling export of mango from India to the US in 2007 after a gap of 18 years. 

The microbiological, nutritional and chemical aspects of radiation-processed foods have been studied in detail around the world. None of these studies have indicated any adverse effects of radiation on food quality.

Commercial Prospects in India
  In India radiation processing of food can be undertaken both for export and domestic markets. Food could be processed for shelf-life extension,hygienization and for overcoming quarantine barriers. Huge quantities of cereals, pulses, their products, fruits and vegetables, seafood and spices are procured, stored, and distributed throughout the length and breadth of the country. 

During storage and distribution grains worth of thousand of crores of rupees are wasted due to insect infestation and related problems. Radiation processing can be used for storage of bulk and consumer packed commodities for retail distribution and stocking.

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