Friday, May 6, 2011

This "Cheese" did not bring out smile on the face of Importers nor would the customers relish it !

It is common for the photographers to ask the group to say ‘cheese’ as he tries to freeze the moment into posterity.  By uttering cheese, people generally form their mouth into a smile-like shape.  Whether that can bring glee on the sayer is perceptive..

Cheese is a generic term for a diverse group of milk-based food products. Cheese is produced throughout the world in wide-ranging flavors, textures, and forms. Cheese consists of proteins and fat from milk, usually the milk of cows, buffalo, goats, or sheep. It is produced by coagulation of the milk protein casein. Typically, the milk is acidified and addition of the enzyme rennet causes coagulation. The solids are separated and pressed into final form. Most cheeses melt at cooking temperature.  Cheese is predominantly European – Nederlands specialises in milk and cheese products.  There are many traditional cheese markets operating there – the old scenario is remade for the tourists.  It is written that Dutch cheese farmers traditionally brought their cheeses to the market square in town to sell.

The deep fried cheddar cheese offers delicious rich and creamy taste and would sure stump one.   Cheetos containing cheese puffs and cheese balls are quite a hit among the children.   There are many many varieties mostly depending on its origin – Testouri, Roomi, Ayib, Caravane, Bokmarkri, Kwaito are all cheese varieties.  The more famous one is the Mozzarella which is Italian, a term used for several kinds that are made using spinning and then cutting.  Cheddar is a relatively hard, yellow to off-white made in Cheddar in Somerset.

We often to go to Star hotels with the perception that the food served is quality food.  That they would maintain some standard at the time of purchase, processing, cleaning, preparing and serving any of the dish that we order for.  Only for this, we do not mind spending that extra money.  Being edible items we expect them to be of good standard and quality and do not mind spending more, though a similar food might be available at a lesser price …….  One would not settle for cheap things, nor mind for the expenditure,  when it comes to food items !

Cheese is valued for its portability, long life, and high content of fat, protein, calcium, and phosphorus. Cheese is more compact and has a longer shelf life than milk. Cheesemakers near a dairy region may benefit from fresher, lower-priced milk, and lower shipping costs. The long storage life of some cheese, especially if it is encased in a protective rind, allows selling when markets are favorable.

In European and other markets, it is a regular subject matter of insurance in marine.  Since cheese is highly impact- and pressure-sensitive, appropriate care must be taken during cargo handling. Cheese in rolls must not be dropped or set down hard, as it could thereby lose its roundness.   This type of cargo needs protection from moisture (rain, snow) during cargo handling and from excessively high temperatures. So often controlling the refrigeration temperature is a challenge.

The rind which surrounds a large proportion of cheese varieties is coated with a wax layer, to protect the cheese from contamination, mold, insects, light and water loss. Rindless cheese is sealed into plastic film in the unripe state, the film being so selected as to allow the cheese to ripen in it.  Most cheese varieties are packaged in plastic film or aluminum or tin foil. Cheese is primarily transported in cartons.  Sometimes cheese is also transported in rolls, which are wrapped with paperboard and strapped with metal strapping.

Cheese is susceptible to the classical ‘taint damage’ – the damage by other cargo.  Depending on the variety, cheese exudes an odor which ranges from slight and pleasant to extremely unpleasant.  When stored alongside other sensitive foodstuffs,  there could be damages arising out of  bad odour.

The Indian experience, as it happens turned out to be far different.  The Directorate of Revenue Intelligence (DRI) recently  seized 34,000 kg of stale and contaminated cheese worth Rs one crore from Netherlands and Italy and shipped to the Chennai port.

Not on account of operation of any marine peril but more of moral hazard.  Three persons were arrested on charges of trying to import a product which was well past its shelf life,  by tampering with its manufacturing date.  Astonishingly, these containers had first reached the port of Tuticorin earlier somewhere during March.  The vigilant officials there had noticed that the consignment was contaminated and well past the expiry date.  It failed to comply with the standards of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act of 1954 and the customs sent them back.  It was ordered to be taken back to the country of origin as the permission to import was denied.  Credit must be given to the vigilant Officials who observed that the cartons contained two stickers – one pasted by the supplier showing the date of production as November 2009 and the second sticker showing the date of production as November 2010. The importer had thus tried to get clearance for the consignment by manipulating the date of manufacture. The other two containers did not conform to standards the product's shelf life had expired, there was presence of micro-organisms and usage of ineligible additives.   The authorities had even imposed fine amounting to some 15 lakhs.  The consignment sneakily was then taken to Colombo and reimported to India, this time to Chennai.

Another example of India becoming a dumping yard for rejected, sub-standard and  hazardous products.  What a health hazard !

In Chennai after tampering with the labels, the goods reportedly wre sent to Star hotels and fast food joints.  The DRI sleuths getting wind out of this raided the Office and found incriminating documents proving the illegal activity.  Quite unfortunately, the hotels were not even aware of the poor quality or about the expiry of the product.  Some of them had been importing these and chocolates sometimes offered at lower prices, perhaps due to the same reason. 

The unmindful customers have been taken for a ride – as the unsuspecting customers would often pay high price and take the pride of eating in quality food joints – when not even the basic quality checks had been taking place.  The only reaction came from the Consumer Right activists who felt that there should be mandatory checks on all food items imported but would not be feasible as more than 1000 containers exit from the port daily. 

The samples sent by the Enforcing authorities were confirmed to be outdated by the Central Food Lab in Mysore.  It was reported in the press that the Company involved had been supplying to many big clients including Taj, Trident, Le Meridien, Subway etc.,

The seizure rouses the fundamental question on what had been happening all along and whether such criminals had been riding on the immunity.  It calls for strict action and stringent punishments for those who play with the lives of the common public. 

Many a times, democracy is too soft and criminals exploit loopholes.  There should be times when citizens fear the law and are punished when they play with the lives of others for making some quick money.

This ‘cheese’ sure did not bring out smiles on the face of Chennai citizens.  For many however, life would roll on usual without any concern.


Regards – S. Sampathkumar

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