India is a country with population of over 1.35 billion people and sheer magnitude of food safety enforcement is a challenging task. Food is essential for life; hence, the access to safe food is a necessity. Millions of people are at risk of unsafe food and become sick while hundreds of thousand face fatal consequences yearly.
The food chain starts from farm to fork while challenges include microbial, chemical, environmental and personal hygiene. Due to the consumption of contaminated food by act of intentional or unintentional conduct and lack of effective monitoring system to safeguard food safety and quality results in economic loss as well as concerning public health & safety. While earlier incidents were mainly chemical contaminants, more recent outbreaks have been due to microbial & molecular agents.
Naturally, toxins and environmental pollutants have caused many outbreaks and in addition, chemical components are used to eradicate or control pests and worms can be a risk of chemical hazard. Staple foods like corn or cereals can contain high levels of mycotoxins, such as aflatoxin and ochratoxin. A long-term exposure can affect the immune system or cause fatal diseases.
Milk and milk products are a good source of nutrients such as proteins and calcium and consumed mainly by children. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, at least 25% of the world’s food crops are contaminated with mycotoxins and the production of agricultural commodities is barely sustaining the increasing population of the world. Therefore, the presence of Aflatoxin M1 in milk is a concern.
Aflatoxins are mycotoxins, a group of naturally occurring toxins produced mainly by moulds such as Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, and have adverse effects on humans, animals, and crops that result in illnesses and rejection of consignments resulting in huge economic losses.
Aflatoxin M1 is the hydroxylated metabolite of Aflatoxin B1, which is found in milk obtained from livestock that have ingested contaminated feed.
Microbiological & Molecular Safety
Food by nature is biological. It is capable of supporting the growth of microbiota that are beneficial for the gut microflora and in supporting the potential pathogens. Viruses are more responsible for the majority of foodborne illnesses but hospitalizations and deaths associated with foodborne infections are due to bacteria. The severity ranges from mild gastroenteritis to neurologic, hepatic, and renal syndromes caused either by bacteria or by the toxin from the bacteria.
Foodborne pathogens are the leading cause of severe and fatal foodborne illnesses. Food poisoning is caused by species of Staphylococcus, Salmonella, Clostridium, Campylobacter, Listeria, Vibrio, Bacillus, and E. coli. It is important to follow safety measures and maintain hygiene while handling food.
It is also to be noted that the incidence of food allergens is more than ever before and a study estimates that up to 3% of the population in India has food allergies. For Instance, Casein in milk is the most common cause of food allergy in infants and young children.