Magazine article Management Today

Both Sense and Science

Magazine article Management Today

Both Sense and Science

Article excerpt

BOTH SENSE AND SCIENCE

We expect science to solve every dietary problem. But technology is no substitute for common sense. People have grown to expect a lot of their food and of the technology that promises to keep food fresh, create tastier food and above all, produce food that is `good' for you. Yet food and technology can prove difficult partners. Often it is not technology but common sense and a traditional approach to hygiene that keep our table healthy.

The world now expects to be informed of the effect on the collective body of the food we eat. Figures recently published by the British Government show that heart disease costs employers 1.5 billion [pounds] a year in lost production, or 35 million lost working days. Britons are nine times more likely to die of coronary heart disease than the Japanese, and one of the biggest factors in determining this high coronary rate is the fats in our diet.

Executives are one of the groups of British society most prone to such diet-related heart disease. In the US it is commonplace to find executives carrying portable cholesterol meters, which tell you the level of cholesterol in your blood. Diabetic executives with a penchant for technology can now buy sensors the size of a fountain pen which will tell them their blood-sugar level.

So it is hardly surprising that in such a world we have come to ask technologists for quick answers to improving our health, with the minimum of effort on our part. And in some instances technology has come up with the goods.

Microbiologists working in food technology are now developing predictive mathematical models that allow food manufacturers and processors to program the shelf life, and the level of safety that they require of their products, into a piece of software. Traditional methods of microbiological testing are proving inadequate with new foods.

Scientists at the Institute of Food Research, part of the Agriculture and Food Research Council, are pioneering such predictive models. They can now forecast the growth of certain bacteria in food and test the effects of a new preservative, or of techniques such as cook-chill storage, so that manufacturers do not have to run expensive and time-consuming trials.

The Institute is calling for a national database that could predict the likely areas of potential contamination of food, following diminished public confidence in the quality of eggs and soft cheese as a result of outbreaks of salmonella and listeria. Small testing kits now abound which allow farmers who are worried about salmonella in their flocks to test for environmental contamination by bacteria. One such kit, produced by Medical Wire and Equipment in Bath, can detect salmonella bacteria in just six hours, if more than 10,000 of the organisms are present in a sample.

But such technologies are not always the best answer. The outbreak of salmonella at the beginning of the year was largely caused by the contamination of feed for chickens. The new strain of salmonella is now thought to have been imported into Britain in feedstocks two or three years ago. The problem was exacerbated by poultry offal being recycled in the food industry.

In this case technology could play only a minor role in protecting our food. …

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