Labs for food testing

| Updated: September 17, 2022 21:30:32

Labs for food testing

The food minister's announcement to set up food testing labs in all eight divisions of the country may not have drawn the attention of many amid the hullaballoo of food crisis. However, looking at the country's food situation for both domestic consumption and export, the announcement does carry an important message to address the problems and limitations in ensuring food safety. Food security must, of necessity, be followed by safety of foods. The food minister's announcement came at the inauguration of the Food and Chemical Lab Expo 2022 in the capital last week. Organised by the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, the event, first of its kind in the country, highlighted the need for lab testing of primary and processed foods. Pointing out the sheer inadequacy of testing labs, the minister informed that a contract was signed with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) to set up international standard testing labs. Besides the labs, eight mobile van labs will also be introduced to complement the task.

All for the awful state of the country's food sector! Unsafe food, an unrelenting reality for most varieties of foods in the country, is reportedly comprising the nation's diet. There are occasional drives in kitchen markets, restaurants and super-markets --- mostly in big cities. Fines are imposed, sometimes heftily; even criminal proceedings are also resorted to. But these do not appear to have brought about any change.  Incidents of adulteration, observers hold, is a broad-based, perhaps a country-wide network that devious business people find highly profit-driven. Fining big stores or restaurants or kitchen markets does not help much. Worse, it provides undesirable leverage to those in charge of calling the shots.

While contamination of food can be due to negligence, deliberate adulteration by toxic chemicals or radioactive materials for long shelf life of products and increasing the volume in size and weight, among the many crooked methods, is so rampant that it is difficult to find anyone who has not encountered an unpleasant moment of food-borne illness at least once in the past years. While some illnesses may be self-limiting, some can be very serious and even life-threatening. Taking care of the situation thus calls for initiatives to discipline the sector. In advanced countries this involves producing, handling, storing and preparing foods in such a way as to prevent infection and contamination in the entire chain. However, in situations such as in this country, it is not merely about maintaining a clean chain but also putting in place strong deterrents so that disorderliness in the business could be largely stopped. Setting up several food testing labs, as announced, may be a step in the right direction.

Absence of standard food labs is well recognised as a major bottleneck for accessing export markets of potential food products, especially processed foods. Most countries these days follow strict food testing protocols while importing, and it is here that Bangladeshi exporters, even those capable of supplying quality products, are held back. Well-equipped food labs, as announced by the food minister, will hopefully meet the requirement for export, while also improving the quality of local food market.

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