World over food processing is a tradition coming along with humans from time immemorial. In an environment of social change, where working women or men, spend less time preparing meals, the emphasis is towards innovation throughout the value chain in a bid to save time and offer quality and safe food. Therefore there is a need to shift science towards constant innovation today in that direction in the area of food science and technology.
However in a country like India, we must emphasise the science of innovation in the area of new products or for the development of a better product. A plethora of ready-to-eat foods now available in the market are not replacing conventional foods but offering innovative convenient steps to make it easy to prepare for the younger generation.
Many a time, food processing is being looked as an equipment-based technology. This is where equipment design and production reality need to be achieved through hard core science. Training of human resource and the entire distribution-supply chain must be loaded with hygiene and all the products must be manufactured meeting label, packaging and adhering to regulatory norms. But this requires high degree of awareness, knowledgebase and constant monitoring. Some times the new products do not see the light of the day due to small regulatory mandate that is not followed.
What needs to be done?
A lot of basic understanding of fundamental science of processes and science of consumer acceptance needs to be addressed. We need to look at what the industry and consumer need. This is not beyond one's understanding when one looks at equipments produced for the food processing sector. India need not go a long way to meet the benchmarks of world as though we have just begun five years back. We are able to put satellites in the sky and build impossible infrastructure but to develop food manufacturing equipments and make the food safety chain we perhaps are rather complacent from a holistic angle. This corrective measure will possibly ensure a better market in the chain from pre- harvest to post-harvest and distribution and value addition in the chain.
Government needs to give much more importance in implementation of food safety measures as a priority and major area of focus in the 12th Five Year Plan to be able to make a quantum leap in food processing business, which will include adaptable, affordable, acceptable technologies and safe food products by small, medium and cottage industries cascading with large and global industries.
Growth of food processing must have an inclusive factor. On the one end, there are global industries, and, on the other, it can be a small, cottage unit that will help to bridge the gap of cost, not sacrificing the quality and safety. If one looks at the equipment in milk processing industry which is an achievement going by the success of the dairy cooperative sector and manufacturing units in the country with milk at an effective cost there is a lesson to learn. There is a large focus on livestock cooperatives, pasteurisation centres and adaptation of a rural working model which have fitted well into the Indian urban global industry. If this is achievable in India, we need to be persuasive and confident on the options with us for fruits, vegetables, poultry, fish, spices, condiments and herbs and so on. There is also the area of ingredient technology, bioactive compounds, basic science of nutrients and nutraceuticals where India can show the leading pathway to the world in this huge double digit growth with no sign of recession but only opportunities emerging to succeed. Therefore, if we invest in hardcore science, the dividend is bound to be huge with rightly addressing the food & nutrition science at large with science reaching the needy.
In concentrating on this area, under the 12th Plan period, food processing could be a key growth driver. For example, removing rice from paddy is high-end technology, provided one can streamline the operations perfectly separating the whole rice from broken rice and utilising all the products that are emerging out of rice bran. If required non-polished rice could be made available to the public as nutritious rice with refined technology in place as a charter. Those days of lipase and rancidity in rice are all pages of history. Keeping an eye on quality, we need to thereon isolate rice bran to produce bran fibre for bakery industry; rice bran oil, which is a health oil with antioxidants from stabilised rice bran in addition to rice bran lecithin, vitamins free from fatty acids and enriching Oryzanol and other phytosterols which can be the starting raw material for the chemical industry. Who says only rice can be obtained from paddy!! If deep science is put into the process and the acumen of converting science to business is the emphasis, perhaps cost of rice can be absorbed through its by-products?! This potential of India in the food sector can have an explosive growth if properly networked with knowledge and tapped with a clear mandate of national reachout and a clear presence in international market.
(The writer is president, Nutrition Society of India, and former director, Central Food Technological Research Institute (CFTRI), Mysore)