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Quality standards, certification for coconut products
Saturday, 04 February, 2012, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Sreekumar Poduval
Quality standards and certification systems are of great importance in facilitating both national and international trade. They simplify industrial transactions and improve international trade relations, which in turn create a proper environment for trade, thus promoting industrial development.

One of the foremost purposes of standardisation is to facilitate the movement of materials and products through all stages of production in any industrial activity starting from the raw material to the finished products; then to the dealer and finally to the retailers and consumers. Standards make it possible to carry on trade in an economic and efficient manner for they make possible quantitative measurement, physical and chemical analysis, and manufacture of products of constant and uniform quality.

Long-drawn process

The establishment of standards and certification systems is a long and tedious process. It involves proposing, devising, discussing, adopting, announcing and revising, in consultation with the trade organisations, processors, government regulatory agencies and consumer groups. The government authorities should carefully weigh the need for and the effect of the particular proposed standards or regulations.

Questions should be asked - whether it promotes improved safety of food, whether it enhances availability of food products, and whether it is feasible in terms of both industrial production and enforcement. The answers to the questions may vary from country to country due to differences in agricultural, industrial, marketing, economic or regulatory potentials and resources. In general, all countries have the main objective to safeguard the well-being of their people with effective food and health laws & regulations. Most countries have a food administrative authority, which is widely recognised for its responsibilities and authority in establishing and enforcing standards of identity for food products.

Issues, problems in quality

Traditional coconut products such as copra, coconut oil and desiccated coconut rely heavily on international markets for their trade. Similarly new value-added coconut products like canned, frozen and spray-dried coconut milk, coconut juice etc. are also dependent on foreign market. Quality control problems including aflatoxin levels in copra & copra meal and the presence of microorganisms in other coconut products resulted in numerous complaints from buyers. Some of the major quality control issues in coconut products are follows:

Aflatoxin in copra

The aflatoxin problem is one of the serious threats to the coconut industry. Poor quality copra resulting from inadequate drying, improper handling and faulty storage usually favours the growth of aflatoxin by fungi. Based on the characteristics of coconut meat and review of different types of drying methods, the international recommended procedures for producing good quality copra would be as follows:

(1) The nuts for copra-making should be mature (11-12-month-old).

(2) Drying should be started within 4 hrs from splitting to avoid start of microbial action.

(3) To avoid case hardening, the temperature of drying should not exceed 60oCelsius during the first 10 hrs and should be about 55oC during the next 14 hrs.

(4) Copra should be stored with 6% moisture level in well-ventilated areas to prevent mould growth and reduce storage losses.

Microbial contamination

Coconut milk is an excellent medium for many kinds of microorganisms being rich in moisture, neutral in pH and rich in nutrients. Meanwhile, canning of coconut milk results in coagulation of certain constituents. Due to these technical constraints, coconut milk is favoured to be preserved by freezing which requires strict sanitation practices for the safety of the product.

Desiccated coconut, other coconut convenience foods

In the manufacture of desiccated coconut and other coconut convenience foods, the plant workers must receive extensive training in quality control aspects at every stage of processing in order to control microbial contamination. The packaged DC should be stored in well ventilated warehouses and not shipped until microbiological tests are negative for salmonella. In spite of all these provisions, exported DC is sometimes found to be rancid, discoloured and clumped due to lapses in handling, processing and distribution of the product. It is therefore important to observe strict quality control in the raw materials, equipment and storage of finished product in order to produce high quality and safe product. The soapy flavour sometimes found in DC is an important defect and this causes concern among buyers. It is attributable to enzymatic hydrolysis of coconut oil, which results in the release of free fatty acids principally lauric acid which is the source of the soapy flavour. The enzymes responsible for this undesirable reaction are derived from microorganism present in the DC. The soapy flavour is readily apparent at a free fatty acid level of around 0.25%. The occurrence of this problem in the desiccated coconut can be minimised by ensuring that only good coconuts are preserved and (b) efficient blanching of the kernel to reduce any microbial contamination. Bad odour and a "greasy feel" to the desiccated coconut are usually attributable to insufficient care being observed during transit and storage of desiccated coconut bags. In most of the developing countries, there is a lack of adequate awareness on standards in ensuring good quality and safety. The enforcement agencies are deficient and lack adequate physical and human resources in ensuring the prescribed standards.

Food Safety Management System (ISO 22000)

The extent of food safety problem in India due to microbial contamination, natural toxicants and plethora of adulterants is compounded by the widespread consumption of unsafe street foods, especially in urban areas, unhygienic environment in public catering places, and sometimes improper handling in the household. There have been reports of food contamination from industrial pollutants, non-judicious use of agro-chemicals, mainly pesticides, and use of non-permitted food colours.

The problems of food safety in coconut processing industries in India are enormous. The problems posed during transport of raw material, handling, processing, packaging, and waste disposal are considerable. There have been considerable efforts in improving food safety/quality scenario in the country by many governmental agencies. These include grading, certification and inspection measures such as those under Agmark, BIS, FPO, MMPO, EIC, as well as the developmental activities of agencies like APEDA, MPEDA, ministry of food processing industries, and commodity boards. While each one of these operates under its own legislative provisions with a clear objective, they do have a positive impact on food safety and quality, which could be further enhanced through better coordination within an integrated system. A detailed presentation on the functioning of the Export Inspection Council indicated that they had already moved from inspection mode to quality assurance including HACCP throughout the food chain coupled with appropriate monitoring. There has been a sea change in consumer awareness about food safety and consumer protection issues. Consumers seek competent and reliable source of information about their concerns in this area. They want protection measures to be scientifically based and determined in consultation with all the stakeholders. Consumer organisations give a high priority to systemic change in governmental appro
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