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Busting the myth of unsafe milk

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by April 16, 2017 General

STRAIGHT TALK

Hamid Maker

Last week I had written a ST article on ‘Milky Poison’, however, according to an article in the Nation on April 9th, (http://nation.com.pk/business/09-Apr-2017/busting-the-myth-of-unsafe-milk), milk is seen as a comprehensive and ideal source of nutrition, as it contains many of the principal constituents of a well-balanced diet.

In fact, it’s not just milk, but also milk-based foods such as butter, cheese, and yogurt that form a part of our regular diet. These products are amongst the richest sources of calcium, and not only help build and maintain strong bones, but are also significant for nerve functions, muscle contractions, and prevention of blood clotting. Milk is also a rich source of vitamins; it contains Vitamin A, Thiamine, Riboflavin and Niacin, as well as Vitamins D and B12 (absent in vegetarian diets).

Unfortunately, most of us remain unaware of what actually constitutes safe and healthy milk. A number of factors contribute towards the adulteration of milk which include the collection processes, the water mixed in by ‘doodh walas’ or ‘gawalas’ to increase the quantity of milk,  the various hormones and medicines injected into cattle and harmful urea chemicals used for extra production of milk.

Yet, despite much literature cautioning about the health hazards of drinking unpackaged milk, the majority of Pakistanis continue to believe that such milk is better – and healthier – for consumption.

The bulk of packaged milk in Pakistan is of the UHT (Ultra Heat Treatment) variety. This process involves heating the milk at a temperature of 135 degrees Celsius for a few seconds and then cooling it down.

As a consequence, almost all the bacteria are killed, while the taste and nutrients within the milk remain preserved. However, as demonstrated by recent reports, even packaged milk can be subject to adulteration. It’s important then to understand that in order for our milk to be safe and hygienic, it is essential that stringent quality controls be exercised at every step of the entire chain.

As part of its effort to inform consumers and educate the public about what constitutes safe milk, Nestle Pakistan initiated a ‘factory visit’ programme last year. The aim was to invite Key Opinion Leaders – including media personnel, nutritionists, restaurateurs, and other social influencers – to the Sheikhupura facility to experience these processes firsthand. The end objective was to remove misconceptions about packaged milk, especially UHT milk, while also educating the visitors on the reasons packaged milk is safer than loose milk. A representative of Concordia Productions visited the Sheikhupura facility and was extremely impressed to see the hygiene control and the organizational mechanisms of the plant. It was fascinating to observe how the Ultra High Temperature treatment actually eliminates all the bacteria. The representative  was reassured that Nestle is making sure that we , the consumers, are offered only the best.

The factory visits guide the guests through the entire end-to-end process. The actual collection process is demonstrated via a video presentation, following which guests are taken to the area where the milk is received and ‘unloaded’ at the Nestle facility. At all times, the milk is transported within a sealed, chilled environment to maintain quality.

After receiving the milk at collection centers, it is immediately chilled, stored and transported at 6 degrees Celsius so the quality of the milk stays safe and maintained until it reaches the factory. At the factory, the milk is tested, treated, and finally protected within special seven-layered packaging that keeps it safe and germ-free for an extended period. Thus the milk is kept safe from the point the factory receives the milk till the point it is opened and served to consumers. A representative of Fazal Din Pharmacies and director of Sehat.com.pk also visited the Nestle Sheikhupura facility and stated that he was fascinated to see Nestle’s stringent SOPs in action to maintain a safe and hygienic environment.

One of the first guidelines that were conveyed to the visitors was the strict classification of personal safety and hygiene equipment required to enter certain premises of the facility, such as hard hats and surgical masks.

Nestle has ensured an aseptic environment in place to maximize the cleanliness of the premises and safety of the products. It has employed state-of-the-art technology to ensure efficient production and the complete removal of germs from its products. It was an informative experience indeed for the visitors.

Nestle follows a rigorous multi-staged testing process to maintain the quality of milk received in its collection centers. The Sheikhupura factory possesses state-of-the-art testing facilities, quality check units, and international standard laboratories, where researchers conduct several tests to assure that consumers are getting the right product.

This research and testing is further vetted by third-party international organizations and labs which meet global regulations, including EUROFIN Germany, TUV Singapore, and SGS International.

Moreover, reputable local labs such as PCSIR, Lahore are also involved in the testing process. It is only after getting the confirmation that the milk is fit for consumption and free from adulterants that it is sent for homogenization, Ultra Heat Treatment, and finally packaging.

However, it is the duty of the Food Authority and PSQCA, who should have their own independent procedures, to ensure that that the consumers are provided safe and healthy milk at an affordable price.

So dear consumers, it seems that there are two sides to a coin and it is now up to the consumer to decide what is in the best interest of the users.

(Email: trust@helplinetrust.org.pk)

This news was published in The Nation newspaper. Read complete newspaper of 16-Apr-2017 here.

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