Many micro-organisms, including dangerous ones, thrive between 20°C and 40°C; the temperature of most rooms. Frozen food, which is stored well at below zero°C, is therefore not a hospitable environment for them. In a freezer, microbes become dormant, but don’t die (you can’t kill them with cold). Danger, therefore, could lie just outside the freezer door.
With ever-increasing varieties of flavours and combinations, ice creams are a gourmand’s delight, but a majority of brands available in the market are contaminated with dangerous bacteria and fungi.
The common health issues associated with contaminated ice cream are diarrhoea, vomiting and skin rashes to serious ones like gastroenteritis and typhoid. Listeriosis can cause nasty stomach pains, a fever and vomiting.
Sometimes having our favourite non-branded ice creams may render us to harmful bacteria, said a study by Consumer Education and Research Centre (CERC). In the findings, atleast 70 per cent of the samples of non-branded ice creams showed presence of Coliform count which is much above the prescribed limits. This is an indication of possible faecal contamination which through no proper hygiene maintained at the disposal end due to unhealthy manufacturing practice.
CERC tested 10 samples of non-branded ice cream from different parts of Ahmedabad as per norms of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). Out of ten, seven ice cream samples had a very high content of Coliform count in it. CERC suggested that manufacturers should obtain ingredients from licensed sources only and store both ingredients and final product at proper temperatures. All equipments should be cleaned and sterilized, hygienic practices be followed during preparation and at the times of serving. The surrounding area of outlet also counts into the vicinity of cleanliness.
Children of vulnerable age groups, especially from poorer families form the bulk of its consumers, hence greater care to be taken by test-labs to check the microbiology of the ingredients, said a statement from CERC.
Rajesh Gandhi, president IICMA (Indian Ice Cream Manufacturing Association) and MD Vadilal Ice Cream said, “It is difficult to conclude in a situation like this but IICMA can take up a lead role in educating the manufacturers and training them to follow hygiene practice at all the levels of ice cream making”.
“It is necessary to create awareness among the manufacturers to improve the microbiology standards in the product which will make food safe for the consumers by good manufacturing practice”.
According to Gandhi, raw materials and ingredients added before the process of pasteurization of milk can kill the bacteria but after the process is complete and then adding ingredients no re-pasteurization process can be performed on the finished product. Contamination can even occur after pasteurization by mishandling of the product, unclean tanks and utensils, areas of manufacturing and serving areas.
“Basically faecal contamination is present from small-time ice cream makers who manufacture at small scale where there are no test labs or testing equipments.
Beside awareness and support from FSSAI and state government, good manufacturer must follow production procedure with greater responsibility.
Bigger brands need to be more careful and have strict parameters to follow to give healthy products to the consumers”, concluded Gandhi.
Shabbir Patel, Director, Fun India Dairy, is of the opinion that the contamination is found in the product where sanitization is not handled properly.
In hand-made ice cream we find contaminants more than the automated ice cream making. When the surrounding area of factory is not clean, the product manufactured is infested by coliform bacteria. These bacteria cannot be seen with naked eyes. Another issue is dirty water which is a prime source of bacteria contaminant. Though water when boiled kills the bacteria, but doesn’t necessarily kill it. It stays dormant till the ice cream is back in liquid form. CIP (Cleaning In Place) is process where the machines are sterilized with chemicals and hot water and cleaned thoroughly to kill maximum germs.
Many a times big brands too overlook or bypass certain criteria of cleanliness. The government can help by implementing certain rules and policies to keep a close check on these brands of ice cream. They can take stricter action so that the ice- cream makers organized or unorganized must follow the sanitization procedures and adhere to it strictly. Times have changed recently as there is more awareness of clean food. Food operators and Environmentalists are closely following the food safety laws stringently abiding to it”.
Mukesh Kothari, Managing Director Manmohak Ice cream and Vice President All India Association of Small Scale Ice Cream Manufacturers, said, “As things are getting costlier day by day things, the manufacturers are thinking on the cost-cutting grounds resulting in use of cheap raw materials which can come with contamination. Therefore to draw more customers to the shop they sell cheap ice creams”.
Usually in India there is shortage of clean drinking water. Small manufacturers opt to take unclean water basically from washrooms already contaminated by coliform which comes from human faecal.
Kothari replied, “People don’t know what they are consuming. It’s cold, sweet and tasty, that is what they count on. According to me it is better to consume ice cream from reputed brand only, because big producers take ultimate care while manufacturing. They can’t stake their name in the industry, so they more often than not follow stringent rules and stick to it with no compromise of any sort”.
To summarise the finding of CERC, the Regulatory bodies should constantly monitor quality to ensure food processing standards are maintained at production, processing, packaging and storage stages. Primarily, food handlers need to be educated on the importance of good sanitary practices along with consumers who also need to follow similar pattern. The contaminations can also happen from the consumer end too.
On the part of consumers, CERC suggested that consumers should buy ice cream from reputed shops only after checking the expiry date. They should store ice cream in the freezer after purchase. Never consume re-freezed ice cream. “Ice cream can pose a danger after purchase if it has melted and then been re-frozen. It can cause food poisoning.
Ice cream melts fairly rapidly at room temperature and the milky, the sugary, liquid concoction is a perfect petri- dish for certain bacteria like listeria, essentially the second time you dig into the tub.
- Coliform bacteria can cause bloody diarrhoea, vomiting, gastroenteritis, urinary tract infections and typhoid.
- Overuse of synthetic food colour is linked to cancer, DNA damage and attention-deficit disorder and hyperactivity in children.
Another way in which ice cream can become dangerous is through cross contamination with other harmful food stuffs. The main concern here is that spoons and scoops used to distribute the ice cream from tub to bowl have many nasty bugs and tiny organisms on them: for instance, if they’ve come into contact gone-off ice cream.
Colour coding your equipment is always helpful in keeping cross contamination to a minimum.
Unfortunately, there are certain ways in which ice cream can poison someone by no fault of their own. One example is that of contaminated ingredients.
Like shampoos, soaps, body washes; commercial ice cream is also filled with toxic ingredients. In addition to the usual milk, sugar and cream, ice cream is made with harmful emulsifiers and additives including:
Calcium sulfate, Polysorbate 80, Magnesium hydroxide, Potassium Sorbate, Mono- and Diglycerides, Sodium Phosphate, Carrageenan, Artificial Flavors etc…
Each one of these is added to the ice cream you see on store shelves and in shops the with the sole purposes of making this treat look, feel and taste better. In other words, they are used to make ice cream more appealing to the human eye and to our taste buds, though none of these ingredients provide any form of nutritional value. What’s more, they can have harmful effects.
For instance, while Polysorbate 80 is used as an emulsifier, Polysorbate 80 has been found to negatively affect the immune system and cause severe anaphylactic shock which can kill. Other ingredients have been found to have carcinogenic effects and are poisonous to humans.
It’s better to suspend operations after any incidental reports of the deadly outbreak of contaminants by the ice cream and entire food industry on the whole.
The message: manufacturers, suppliers, distributors and so forth are all capable of causing accidental harm to the consumer. There’s not much consumers can do about this, however, beyond only buying from trusted brands. But, then again, even the best brands need to trigger recalls now and again, holding no proper guarantee of the best food. So perhaps it’s better to simply hold your nose and chew (or… wait, how do you eat ice cream?…)