By: Siddhant Wangdi *
There is a remarkable increase in the level of awareness about the way food is produced, stored, transported, preserved, cooked, and consumed. Each stage is immensely vital and cannot be ignored at any cost. The consumers want to know about the place of origin of the food that they eat in addition to several other points of concern. Buying meat is a daily activity and requires knowledge and information. The focus of this article is on the everyday challenges faced by a consumer while buying meat at the market.
India is a country of 1.3 billion people. A survey was undertaken by the Sample Registration System (SRS) in 2014 reported that Indians, especially of the the ever so growing middle class, are non-vegetarians. The survey also stated that India’s meat market is valued at approximately $30 billion with an annual growth of 20-25 percent. Thus, statistics make it even more necessary that consumers need to be aware of the risks and the ways to avoid those risks while buying the best quality meat. Consumers are facing lots of challenges while selecting meat for their consumption; some of the main challenges faced by consumers are listed below:
Unorganised Market The large part of the meat market is still unorganised
Indian meat markets are largely operated in traditional ways. A considerable percentage of consumers still buy their meat from wet markets. The bazaars, local butchers, make-shift shops and mandis are still abuzz with meat vendors catering to the highly demanding consumer-base of meat eaters. This unorganised market has a huge potential to bring in changes to provide better meat to consumers. However, currently, the handling, hygiene and storage still remain questionable in terms of quality. Contaminated meat with no warnings can be spotted at these markets because of the lack of scrutiny. Therefore, the chances of risks increase when meat is being purchased from this unorganised market.
Hygiene is not on the Menu Serious trouble with hygiene and handling of the meat
The meat must be hygienically processed whether it is done at the market, at a commercial plant or at home. Hygiene plays the most important part of maintaining the quality of meat. The good quality meat can go rancid if it is not stored, transported and handled hygienically with strict measures of temperature control. There is also a greater risk of contamination of the meat. The wet markets often suffer from serious sanitary issues. It has been observed that the slaughtering, storage and garbage disposal does not comply with the strict and compulsory standards of hygiene. As a result of poor hygienic conditions, the consumers suffer severely.
Faulty Storage, Temperature, Packing and Transport Crucial factors to maintain the quality of meat
Meat is a perishable commodity. Therefore, it is extremely important to maintain freshness in order to ensure the quality of the meat. One of the biggest concerns in handling meat is temperature control. At each stage of meat processing, the right temperature needs to be maintained at all times. The temperatures above 4°C aid the growth of harmful bacteria and are considered to be a “danger zone” by the experts. Any meat must not be allowed to be in the danger zone for too long. The traditional domestic markets are not careful about the importance of temperature in handling meat. Storage of the meat is another big problem as many times, raw meat is stored alongside cooked meat. This can lead to serious health problems. The packing of raw or cooked meat and transport remains unattended and highly risky. Lack of cold chain processes is also an issue that needs to be addressed at the earliest.
Chilled Food Processing and Distribution Bottlenecks galore
Food processing accounts for about 32 percent of the total food market in India. As per the survey, India’s food processing industry was estimated to be worth $250 billion as of 2015 and is predicted to reach $482 billion by 2020. Yet there seems to be quite a few challenges with respect to product conformity, logistics, packaging and delivery. Lack of cold storage infrastructure is arguably the biggest bottleneck. There are no government certified labs to standardise the quality of meat. Also when it comes to exports, there is a limited understanding of international laws.
Use of Harmful Substances Antibiotics, hormones and fillers
In the unchecked and unorganised market, the animals are treated with antibiotics beyond the permissible limits e.g. chickens raised in India for food have been dosed with some of the strongest antibiotics known to medicine, in practices that could have repercussions throughout the world. These antibiotics leave a high level of residue of antibiotics in the meat. It is a tricky call as complete elimination of antibiotic usage has a negative effect on the health of animals. Therefore, there needs to be a fine balance of human health, consumer demands and the health of animals.
Variety of Meat Availability of meats beyond chicken
The Indian meat market is still largely lopsided in as much as it depends heavily on chicken as the primary meat. International markets offer a completely different picture as red meat is preferred over poultry. While there is a demand, the market for red meats like pork is growing at a slow pace unfortunately due to the questionable quality and hygiene with very few manufacturers and brands offering quality breed pork backed with hygiene and packaging innovations.
The safest meat is the one that is free from antibiotics and hormones. The preserved and cured meat must be free from any filler, artificial flavours and colours. The spices used for flavouring the meat must be of good quality. Make sure you check the origin of your meat and also check the entire processing chain and see if adequate infrastructures of chillers are in place. Meat that comes from farm-raised animals is not only good for your health but also ensures great taste. Choose your meat provider carefully and avoid all the risks that are replete in the unorganised market. The challenges in buying meat can be reduced by 100 percent if you rely on a certified and reputed meat provider. Reputed meat provided with all the credentials and certifications will bring excellent quality meat to your table.
* Founder, Meatigo.com