Food for Health

We all know that we have to eat in order to live and survive.  We also know that sometimes we eat too much of one thing and thus we do not have a balanced diet which will make us unhealthy.  Sometimes we have our favorite dish that we do not even know how it is made or what is it made up of.  So what is food?  What is food made up of?  Why do we eat? 

All foods can be classified in basically three main categories: proteins, lipids (fats and oils) and carbohydrates.  60% of the human body is water.  A number of other essential factors are also important such as minerals, vitamins and fiber.

Proteins are obtained from meat, fish, beans, eggs, cheese and other similar foods.  Fats are obtained either from animal or fish sources, while carbohydrate

Proteins are large molecules made from smaller units of amino acids. There are only about 20 different naturally-occurring amino acids and are the building blocks for proteins. However, each protein molecule has hundreds, or even thousands, of them joined together in a unique sequence and folded into the correct shape. This gives each protein its own individual properties.

The basic units of carbohydrates are simple sugars, such as glucose and fructose, they are mostly digested as glucose and used in our system in order to obtain energy.  These are also called monosaccharides. Glucose and fructose have the same molecular formula, C6H12O6. However, their structure is different.  Sucrose is a disaccharide. It consists of two monosaccharides, glucose and fructose, joined together. Starch (found in plants) and glycogen (found in animals) are polysaccharides. They consist of many glucose molecules joined together.

Lipids are fats and oils. Lipids are large molecules made from smaller units of fatty acids and glycerol.

farm-to-fork

What is the processes of having food transferred from a farm to fork in a safe way?  What is food safety, food handling, food processing and packaging?  What does the food label tell us?

Years ago food came directly from farms, fishing from sea, by hunting or growing crops.  Through the years and progress this a specialized profession.   To give an examples years ago everybody had their own animals and vegetables and fruit so there was no need to buy there.  Nowadays, most people need to buy these foods.  Sometimes these are also sold in supermarkets and sometimes even imported or exported to other countries.

So as one can see from basic raw food, now things start to get a bit more complex.  So let’s start with farming, agriculture and fisheries.  What we put in our soil, water, air, feeds for animals and fish, pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, pollutants etc will most probably end up on our tables and we will eat these too.  So food safety is the term used so that a process is evaluated so that the final food product is safe for us. This include food processing ie cutting the foods and stored either fresh, fridge or frozen and a specific expiratory date has to be given to estimate till when the food is good for consumption and also to define different terminologies example fresh fruit.   These are defined as food processing and packaging.  During the packaging stage food labelling is also important and obligatory.  In food labelling the nutritional content of the food has to be clearly labelled, date of production and expiratory date.  Batch number and bar code is also important so that if something goes wrong and there need to be a re-call, there is traceability.   If the food is biologically modified, so it contains genetically modified organisms (GMO) this has to be labelled as well.  Also if allergens are present examples the presence of nuts this has to be clearly labelled too.  The labelling has also to start the storage ideal storage conditions and temperature amongst others.  The weight or volume of the food also need to be started on the label.

Food handling is another important process which defines what procedure are used in order to handle different food both in the packing stages as well and cooking and serving food to consumers.   In Malta legal notice 178 of 2001 clearly states that all food handlers must be registered with the Superintendent of Public Health after successfully completing a course in Food Handling.

nutritional info

So is the food we buy safe and is good for us?  How shall we read and interpret the nutritional information and health claims?

Through the packaging and processing processes a number of chemical are usually added to preserve the food better and even to extend the expiratory dates as well as for better tastes.  These usually include Sugar, Salt and Saturated fats.  All the big S products are very unhealthy and can lead to health risks if consumed in high amount.  So when buying or consuming food products we need to read the nutritional information carefully to know what we are actually consuming.

We also have to be careful about health claims, false claims and advertising, consumer cheating, and terminologies used.  To give some examples you can have a chocolate that states that it is made from 90% milk which might be true but it does not state that it is high is sugar too.  So of these claims are: low in sugar, low in fats, high fiber, made from real fruits, improves the immune system, made with whole grains amongst others.  So it is very important to read the nutritional label of the foods and use our intelligence and judgement of what we should buy or not.

Sometimes consumers are even cheated with the weight of the foods especially meats.  Meats sometimes are injection with a solution of fats and salts so that the weight of the product is increased.  Thus although the prices per weight may be cheaper, the quality is much inferior and in the end you will end up with less food.  Locally I can use the example of Maltese bread which is sold by size not by weight.  Thus a large Maltese bread can have million and one different sizes from different producers.  This could be fairer if it is sold by weight rather than arbitrarily.

Another example of why it is important to read the label is in case of juices.  Everybody know that fresh orange juice is good for us.  Sometimes parents do not have enough time to do this every morning so they go to the nearest supermarket to buy their fruit juices.  I am sure there will be a large selection all the different prices but most of the time they do not make a difference between fruit juice and fruit nectars.  European Commission some years ago issued a clear directive in 2001, 2001/112/EC and amended in 2009, 2009/106/EC– The fruit juice directive to define the difference between the products.  A fruit juice is made up from 100% fruit without anything added to it.  A fruit nectar may be diluted (to a degree limited by regulations) with water and contain additives besides fruit juice, including natural and artificial sweeteners, and preservatives.

 

Dr Renald Blundell

May 2017

Standards and consumers

Whenever we turn on a light switch, use the internet, unwrap food from a supermarket, or our children play with a toy, or we do hundreds of other everyday things, we’re usually using standards without knowing it.

In laymen’s word standards are guidelines prepared by a team of experts in order to obtain the best possible results for the best value whether from a product or service. Standards help support basic consumer rights, such as the right to safety and the right to be informed, which have their origins in former US president John F. Kennedy’s declaration of four basic Consumer Rights in 1962. Further, standards when followed also help to raise levels of quality, safety, reliability, and efficiency, exactly what consumers’ expectations are when purchasing products or services.

In short, standards can provide specific requirements and/or

                          guidance on addressing consumer concerns and help to

                          meet their expectations

pramLet’s take examples of some applications of standards. In Europe, in order to safeguard children, a standard was prepared for ‘child’s prams and pushchairs’ (MSA EN 1888). This standard gives guidance to manufacturers on how to make pushchairs that are safe and comfortable. A pushchair needs to be stable, durable, with good brakes and secure harnesses. It also needs to minimize risk of injury when folding. MSA EN 1888 covers all of these aspects and shows manufacturers how to meet minimum levels of safety. All pushchairs sold in the Malta must comply with this standard.

Toys are valuable tools for children’s development. As well as keeping them entertained, toys help children find out about the world, learn new skills and make friends. But the importance of keeping children safe while they play can’t be overstated. In the EU standards (MSA EN 71 series and others) have been prepared to ensure toys safety.

Before toys reach the shelves, they must undergo rigorous testing to ensure they are safe for children to use. Safety testing a teddy bear, for example, might include tugging its eyes, to make sure a young child couldn’t easily pull them out and swallow them, and setting it alight, to check whether a child holding a teddy which caught fire, would have time to drop  it before being burnt.

What role can consumers play in the development of standards?

Consumers can have a very important role in the development of standards. Personal experiences can help to improve standards especially where safety can be an issue. In these situations, ‘L-Ghaqda tal-Konsumatur’ is there to listen to your experience and put forward your concern to European body responsible for the preparation and review of standards.

Another role for consumers with some expertise in particular fields is to participate technical committees preparing and reviewing standards. One can visit the site of the local standards body MCCAA where one finds a list of standards at various stages of preparation.

Standards affect us all every day and everywhere,

we take these for granted. Consumers have a very

important role and their feedback through L-Ghaqda

tal Konsumatur is very important to ensure that

products are not only safe but also value for money.

Consumer protection in Malta – a necessity in our daily life

Consumer protection is without any doubt a necessity in ensuring that each of us when buying or hiring a product or service is given value for money. Knowing what your rights and obligations as a consumer is something you can’t really do without out in daily life. Every time you make a purchase for your personal needs you are a consumer and you are protected by a myriad of laws.

Consumer protection in Malta