Due to changing lifestyles, the fad for heat-and-eat food items is catching on in the state despite concerns about quality and hygiene
After packaged Rista and Goshtaba conquering the kitchens of Jammu and Kashmir, now it’s the turn of Traditional Kashmiri staple food (Rice/Sabzi/Dal/Mutton)to make waves with small time entrepreneurs establishing homemade units to make them, earning a profit close to Rs 4,000 a day. The cumbersome cooking process to prepare home made Kashmiri Thali be it Veg or Non Veg has in fact fuelled the ready-to-eatThali business in the Srinagar capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The rapid mushrooming of small business to fill the rising demand has resulted in a manifold growth in this sector over the past few months, But The uncertainty in Kashmir has always been a on the peakand due to outbreak of Covid 19, the operations of the various Food delivery operatorsdelivering fast food, tiffin’s, in Srinagar decreased due to health and safety issues. In future I am quite sure it will give a stiff challenge to large ready to eat packaged food ventures. Currently the market is wide open for all the aspiring Food Based entrepreneurs with diverse stronghold among the working/Student class of society.
Take for example, TiffinAaw, holding the distinction of being only one of the first homemade tiffin service units in Srinagar which kick-started its operations in 2019. With only one exclusive outlet in the city, it sells more than 30-50 Tiffinon a normal day in Srinagar. He has received a good response from various sections of the society especially Students, doctors, government employees. He claims that he adds no preservatives in his food, follows proper guidelines from the Regulatory authorities and packs them in eco-friendly plates with a lesser impact on the environmental degradation. His only mantra is to keep the food simple with the ethnic touch of homemade kitchen recipes thereby maintaining the taste of traditional cuisines of Kashmir vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. But the scope of Ready to eat foods in Jammu and Kashmir is yet to be explored and has a lot more to do compared with the other cities of the country where food delivery systems are being operational from so long time. Here the question arises, if the whole system of food delivery at doorsteps is well versed and healthy, why there is an increasing trend of Lifestyle diseases among the younger sections. It is mandatory and right of every person to know about the food which they are eating. Which is being governed by various regulatory authorities at the state and central level, FSSAI from time to time by issuing the advisories after prior consultation from the experts of Scientific Panel and committees.
The fast-paced lifestyle has resulted in people not wasting time on routine activities like cooking, making them turn to reliable Ready to eat packaged foods items.The stress should be on the importance of standing out to make a difference. A sneak peek into the economics of Ready to eat food business at home reveals an initial investment of around Rs 2-5 lakh to set up a homemade kitchen/processing plant equipped with modern kitchen equipment’s.There should be a proper orientation of people who cook the food which is being served to so many consumers. The basics of this ready to eat foods if kept in mind the proper cooking methods, Hygiene practices, Safe Sanitation practices will ensure them customer satisfaction. Apart from individual customers, the orders will mainly rely on hotels, retail stores, Schools, colleges, university hostels, canteens and housing societies if proper guidelines will be followed upon. This will open up Small-scale industries to cater this segment which will mainly provide employment opportunities to unemployed men and women. The government must ponder upon the fact to provide subsidies under different state and Central Government schemes for making it a successful programme. A detailed study on the same can be conducted by qualitative and quantitative research methods before making any policy plan and implementation thereof. Other technical gigs are also important for those who intend to take this idea as a career and entrepreneurship opportunity.
The issue of food additives
Food adulteration is the talk of the town with officials seizing large swathes of contaminated food samples during various inspectionsin Food Business Operators premises across the country as well as in UT. What we fail to understand is preservatives are used in almost all food products to extend its shelf life. Some people claim to be a victim of the excessive use of chemicals in pre-cooked and cooked Ready to eat food products. If the foods contaminated or excessive additions of additives were consumed regularly for little under a year, it will cause damage to the liver, leading to partial cirrhosis. “Most of the manufacturers of RTE foods add things like sodium benzoate, glycerine and vanaspati and cook foods with reused oil that cause long-term damages to your body”. Any unsold inventory at the end of the day is generally sourced by local hotels and canteens at a discounted price. A fairly well-established packaged food venture in the city said when there are orders which require a shelf life of 3-4 days, lower than permissible levels of ascorbic acid are added. Ascorbic acid is allowed by the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India to be added to food products to extend its shelf life.
When quality matters
Of late, there has been an increase in the number of fast food restaurants and food units in Kashmir selling leftover food over the next few days, by recooking/reheating it repeatedly or refrigerating for more days in order to earn profit without loss in their businesses. The best way for them to avoid unnecessary wastage or adopt the unethical practices is to cook fresh and as per the demand from the market.It is very important to know the science of foods which allows upto which extent food can be reused after cooking and time of shelf stability. The nature of foods varies as per their cooking methods. In Jammu and Kashmir, especially Kashmir division majority of the population are non-vegetarian so it is very important to know, for non-vegetarian ready to eat foods it is advisable not to keep it under refrigeration for longer time, as continuous freezing/reheating/cooking can result in deterioration of essential nutrients and consumption of it is considered to be very harmful for human health. Though these ready-to-cook products are proving to be a big hit, many have expressed apprehensions over quality. Many consumers have raised doubts about the quality of the raw materials being used, hygiene of the production units and whether these businesses are registered. As per the FSSAI regulations, no person shall commence any food business unless he possesses a valid licence. One of the best examples of this was seen few years back in Kashmir when the substandard fish, chicken, mutton kebabs were banned due to its harmful nature and impact on human health. Every food processing unit has to register with the Food Safety Department. “Officials from the department are supposed to conduct a thorough inspection of the unit before issuing a licence,”. Also, frequent inspections are tocarried out to ascertain whether these units are following the FSSAI guidelines. “Samples must be collected from the food processing units at regular intervals and tested for contaminants, toxins, presence of banned preservatives and chemicals,”. If any unit is found not adhering to regulations strict action like cancellation of licence must be strictly adhered to.
In the preamble to the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) is expected to ensure availability of safe and wholesome food for the people in India. Therefore, FSSAI has embarked on a large-scale effort to transform the country. Safe foods and healthy diets are critical in the context of India’s high burden of food borne diseases, under-nutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and growing incidence of obesity and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) like hypertension, diabetes and heart related diseases. According to the statistics 196 million Indians are undernourished, 113 million are overweight or obese putting them at risk for non-communicable diseases such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. In Jammu and Kashmir the trend of lifestyle diseases has been increasing tremendously over the last decade among the lower age groups (25-40) as well. Further, the number of cases of food borne illnesses in country is expected to rise from 100 million to 150 – 177 million in 2030 compared to 2011. This will directly impact the ability to absorb nutrients, fight infection, rendering millions vulnerable to a host of diseases. In addition, the current food production and consumption food practices are threatening the environment and the future of our planet. Food production is responsible for up to 30% of global greenhouse-gas emissions contributing to global warming. Global food waste accounts for 6.7% of global greenhouse gas emissions, directly leading to climate change. The results of which were also seen in the form of hottest day in Kashmir with a temperature rise of 34-36 degrees in past few weeks there by making a record after 40 years. There is a need to focus on preventive healthcare through ensuring safe, healthy food for all people in an environmentally sustainable way.
Note: The views are personal based on the local experience with fast foods and impact on human health.