Thursday, January 28, 2021

What are you putting into your shopping trolley?

Reading Time: 3 minutesMALLI IYER investigates Food safety and labelling regulations in Australia
Website shopping trolley pic
Food, including fruits, vegetables and grains, used to come from sources that were easily identifiable. These days, it is a different matter entirely. The food in our shopping trolleys is often imported from other countries, and this means that there are not the same regulatory structures in place to guard our health.
It is well known that Customs and Quarantine undertake no more than just random checks, which may not exceed 2% of the total quantity of foods imported. Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) keeps an eye on imported foods, and is subjected to the Imported Food Inspection Scheme. Since this runs into thousands of tonnes of food imported in most countries, it is impossible for every imported gram or ounce of food to be inspected, and Australia is no exception.
Use by and best before labels
The country of origin of the foods is slowly taking hold in products sold in Australian food stores and supermarkets, although there are still labels like ‘made in Australia from local and imported ingredients’, which are very ambiguous.
‘Packaged in Australia’ is another label that confuses buyers, as the entire product may have been manufactured elsewhere. ‘Use by date’ and ‘best before… date’ are also seen widely on product labels. For commodities like bread, cheese, meat, seafood and poultry, the ‘use by date’ is critical. For shelf stable foods like ready-to-eat snacks, pulses, cereals, and grains, the indication of ‘best before… date’ suggests that the food quality is likely to have deteriorated beyond the stated date, but may still be usable for a short period after that.
Labels for vegetarians
How many vegetarians among us worry about rennet free cheese or yoghurt? And how many take care to avoid using curry pastes made in Southeast Asia, which invariably have shrimp paste or oyster sauce as an ingredient? Yet, how many more look at the ice creams they buy without knowing that most contain gelatin? It is a moot point that vegetarians are sometimes less fussy about the blending of non-vegetarian ingredients in the food they eat.
Labels for carnivores
The carnivores among us fare no better.  They have to negotiate through a maze of labels such as ‘grain fed beef’, free-range or cage eggs, organic or ‘antibiotic free’ chickens and poultry, ‘lean’ meat and pork of various specifications, and of course ‘halal accredited meat’.
There is no means of knowing if livestock have been bred using genetic technology, as rules and regulations vary from country to country. Genetically modified meat and foods are a fact of life as rules governing them vary dramatically.  This makes the line of distinction between GM and non-GM farming an extremely very thin indeed, due to the unrestricted movement of farm produce. How much care is exercised by shoppers when they fill up their trolley is also debatable.
When food goes bad
Should suspect food consumed cause food poisoning, an allergic reaction, or other ill-health, there seems to be no alternative but to visit a Doctor.  Even so, after the symptoms and causes have been established, there does not seem to be a system of reporting or identifying the food batch for a recall by the manufacturer. In short, we have no way to prevent similar damage to health occurring elsewhere. Rashes on the body, irritable bowels, bloating, and headaches are often caused by food intolerances.
Website Meat pic
Shelf life
The shelf life of canned goods is normally longer than fresh food, and many bottled and sealed products recommend refrigeration after the product seal is broken after initial use. Many sauces, salad dressings and dips fall into this category. These have a tendency to become mouldy if proper care is not taken. And although packaged and frozen foods have become an essential part of our grocery shopping, there are still worries over a loss of nutrition in the food.
New terminology
Consumers have to reckon with a new concept of ‘super foods’. Unknown previously, we have had to learn to distinguish between ‘organic’, ‘pesticide free’, ‘high-fibre’ and ‘low GI’ (glycaemic index) foods which are conducive to good health.  We have also learned about quinoa, chia seeds, acai, and goji berries that have recently gained universal acceptance, and find out about the virtues of pomegranate, and the humble coconut water.
In essence, it is important to create an awareness among those of us who need to become more inquisitive about the way that we feed our families.  We do not live in a perfect world, but need to be on our guard in the interest of good health. Happy grocery shopping!

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Malli Iyer
Malli has over 25 years experience in creative writing and has been a contributor to Indian Link for over 10 years. He is also an accredited cricket umpire for Cricket Australia.

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