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14 October, 2019 12:29:14 AM / LAST MODIFIED: 14 October, 2019 01:50:32 PM

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Processed frozen foods thrive sans supervision

‘Ready to cook’ food producers declare to have own mechanism to ensure quality; experts call for regulatory body
RAFIQUL ISLAM AZAD, Dhaka
Processed frozen foods thrive sans supervision

Processed food items such as frozen paratha, chicken nuggets and samosa have become widely popular with the country’s urban middle-class. But are the ingredients and preservatives, if used, in these food items safe for consumption? And, what hygienic standards are maintained during the production? These are questions that remain unanswered.

Both Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) and Bangladesh Food Safety Authority say it is not within their jurisdictions to certify the standard of processed frozen food items. As such, consumers have to solely rely on the assurance given by the frozen food producers, who declare to have their own mechanism to ensure quality.

With rapid urbanisation and an expanding middle class, the market for processed frozen foods in the country has crossed $95 million or around Tk800 crore. The market is expanding at over 20 per cent a year, according to research firm Financial Planning. About 45 types of processed frozen food items including different varieties of paratha, rooti, dal puri, samosas, meat and fish balls, fish finger, chicken nuggets, sausage, drumlets and strips, spring rolls, burger patty are being sold by a number of companies – all claiming different quality standards. But the authorities concerned are yet to set-up any regulatory body to oversee these consumer food items.

Experts say a fast-paced urban life, rising disposable income, increasing number of women in the workforce, and shortage time, along with the preference for nuclear families are major contributors to the growing acceptance for the ‘ready to cook’ foods among the middle-class, as preparation of these involve much less time and hassle.

The ready availability of these products at nearby retail shops, department and chain shops has added to the sales growth.

Golden Harvest is the leading producer of processed frozen food items in Bangladesh, holding about 23 per cent of the market share while Lamisa has 15 per cent, Pran 13 per cent, Kazi Farm 10 per cent, Rich and CP 8 per cent each and BRAC 7 per cent, according to sources in the industry. However, no official data was available for comparison.

An official of Kazi Farms, preferring anonymity, claimed they are the largest producer of frozen foods in the country. “We supply processed frozen food items at district level across the country and we have 150 outlets of our own,” he added.

When asked about quality control, the Kazi Farms official said they have their own mechanism to ensure quality of the food items.

“We produce the frozen food items mostly using local ingredients. Some spices are imported from abroad,” he said, adding, “Food value and quality of any processed frozen food may deteriorate if any item is kept out of the refrigerator for half an hour to one hour after opening the packet.”

A Golden Harvest official, meanwhile, said they started marketing of processed frozen food items some 12 years ago and are leading the market. “We have set the standard of the processed food through experience and research,” he said.

“We maintain standards and hygiene of the frozen food by our quality control team and have ISO certificate. It is our responsibility to ensure consumer satisfaction,” he added.

Replying to a question, the Golden Harvest official said they market about 40 types of frozen food items and cover all the cities and major district towns.

Kamruzzaman Kamal, director (marketing) of PRAN-RFL Group, another major producer, said they prepare the processed frozen food items following the guidelines of the Codex Alimentarius of  FAO/WHO that mentions how the standard of the frozen foods have to be maintained.

“We have our own method of Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) to ensure quality of the products. Our items are certified by ISO, HALAL and HACCP,” he added.

The PRAN-RFL director, however, said there is a challenge for the retailers to maintain proper temperature after receiving the goods from the company. The product quality will fall if it is kept in a normal refrigerator, he added.   

He said a frozen food item has a 12-month shelf-life and must be refrigerated at minus 18 degrees Celsius temperatures.

Kamal said the demand for frozen foods has increased in Bangladesh gradually with the change in lifestyle.

PRAN-RFL started the frozen food business in 2013 and now exports the products to a number of countries including the USA, Australia, Canada and some European countries, in addition to supplying those across the country, he said.

Among the other local companies, Bengal Meat, AG Food of Ahsan Group, Igloo Dairy of Abdul Monem Group, Reach, Aftab, Eurosia, Paragon, and some others are active in the market.

The only foreign company, Thailand-based Charoen Pokphand (CP), holds about 8 per cent market share in Bangladesh frozen food market, said the sources.

When contacted by The Independent to inquire about quality certification, BSTI Director SM Ishaq Ali said certification of prepared frozen food items is not within their jurisdiction. “We do not certify the processed frozen food items and we do not look into their businesses,” he added.

Dr Sahadev Chandra Saha, director of Bangladesh Food Safety Authority, said they are not the authority to certify the products of processed frozen food companies. He, however, said the authority carries out mobile courts is different places from time to time to control the quality of food items including processed frozen foods.

Replying to a question, he said that drives are usually carried out against complaints. They are yet to get any complaint against any processed frozen food item, he added.

When contacted, Industries Secretary Md Abdul Hamid on Thursday told The Independent he is not aware if the processed frozen food items are being marketed without certification by any government regularity body.

“I have to check it out…Then I can tell you about it,” he said.

Director General of Directorate of National Consumers Rights Protection (DNCRP) Bablu Kumar Saha also expressed his ignorance over the matter and said he is unaware if there is any regularity body to certify the frozen food items.

He, however, said there should be a watchdog to check quality of processed frozen food items and to determine the shelf-life of the products.

“This is an important issue of public concern. I will raise this at the next meeting with the ministry, the DNCRP DG said.

When asked about the safety of the frozen food items in the market, Prof. Dr. Khan Abul Kalam Azad, head of the Department of Medicine and Principal of Dhaka Medical College, said, “There is no problem in producing and selling processed frozen foods, but it should be marketed after getting authorisation and quality seal from a legal body and after proper monitoring on all the processes from preparation to storage at the retail level.”

Dr Mahadi Abdur Rouf, an associate professor of Northern International Medical College, said if the frozen food market is not monitored, it may create serious public health issue.

The experts called for establishing a government authority to ensure standard of the processed frozen food items, including the ingredients, and to monitor whether the manufacturers are maintaining due process in production and storage.

BK

 

 

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Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
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Editor : M. Shamsur Rahman
Published by the Editor on behalf of Independent Publications Limited at Media Printers, 446/H, Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1215.
Editorial, News & Commercial Offices : Beximco Media Complex, 149-150 Tejgaon I/A, Dhaka-1208, Bangladesh. GPO Box No. 934, Dhaka-1000.

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