#4 How and by Whom the Food Will Be Consumed
Professor Emeritus at Hokkaido University
Advisor at Japan Food Research Laboratories
I think it is important for people working in the food industry to consider how and by whom the food at hand will be consumed. Though the feeling of consideration is virtually invisible, it is indispensable for our dietary life as well as vitamins. That is why I call the feeling of consideration “vitamin I” (see my column #1).
Food-related health problems are collectively called “food borne disease”. Anomalotrophy is outside this category, and treated as an independent nutritional problem. Table1 shows the classification and typical examples of food borne diseases that humans have experienced.
Some potatoes contain a toxic component called solanine. Solanine is a form of chemical substance called alkaloid. Some kinds of alkaloid, such as aconite toxin, are extremely poisonous. Also, there are plants that contain cyanide. Therefore, root and tuber crops and legumes with less cyanogen compounds are grown. Futhermore, carcinogens are detected in some plants; cycasin in cycad nuts, ptaquiloside in brackens and safrole in nutmegs to cite a few.
Some plant components inhibit the absorption of vitamin B1, and others inhibit the activity of digestive enzyme trypsin. It is also known that soybeans contain an antithyroid substance. These physiologically active substances are resident to certain food materials. In some cases, we consume these materials after reducing the harmful substances to an acceptable amount through cooking or processing. Also, harmless foods for the majority, such as soybeans and milk, will produce serious allergic reaction in some people.
Foods might be contaminated by pathogens such as food-poisoning microorganisms or toxin-producing fungi. Also, environmentally-released harmful substances by volcanic eruptions, mercury for example, might lead to food contamination.
If foods are left for a certain period of time, their quality will be deteriorated. Heating will accelerate the deterioration of oils and fats. It is also known that secondary amines commonly present in marine products will change into carcinogenic nitrosamines along with nitrous acids in food materials such as vegetables.
It seems that food poisoning will never be eradicated no matter how far science and technology is advanced. Food safety does not mean prohibiting consumption of even edible materials. I think we should dare to take acceptable risks and aim to sustain the earth-space environment together with other creatures. Though pathogens such as O157 are troubling threat for human beings, even they are embracing their fragile lives.
The relationship between microorganisms and human health is very complicated. For people with decreased strength or immune deficiency, it would be better off without microorganisms. On the other hand, moderate amount of microorganisms would help many peple to build up resistance and develop their immune systems.
In controlling microorganisms, it is necessary to sort out and examine the factors that target consumers will face (Table 2). Sun Tzu’s lesson, "If you know both yourself and your enemy, you can come out of hundreds of battles without danger" can be applied to the control of microorganisms too. Food handlers should know the people they are trying to protect from pathogens without lacking “vitamin I”.
Be that as it may, if consumers are ignorant and sloppy, even safe foods rich in “vitamin I” cannot ensure a good outcome.
References (all in Japanese)
Kojo, S., Isshiki, K. ed. (2014). "Syoku Anzensei Gaku (Food Safety)." Foundation for the Promotion of The Open University of Japan