BEYOND THE QUANTITY, IT IS THE QUALITY OF WHAT WE EAT THAT IS WORRYING
Having enough food can be a goal already overcome in our country and, of course, in our region, but since a few years ago the concern extends to the quality of what we eat and the water we drink.
January 27, 2017
It is not only about the nutritional properties, but the assurance that what we eat, either raw or prepared, do not cause damage by the action of pathogenic agents, that is to say that we do not get sick because of bacteria, viruses, parasites, which food may contain, nor by the presence of chemical agents. The concept involves the conditions and practices that preserve the quality of food to prevent contamination and foodborne illnesses.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), food safety encompasses actions aimed to ensure that it is as safe as possible, and it clarifies that the policies and activities toward this purpose shall cover the entire food chain, from production to consumption.
The WHO also identified five keys issues to ensure that it has this condition: keep cleanness; separate raw and cooked food; complete cooking, that is to say, avoid half cooked food; keep food at safe temperatures and use safe water and raw materials.
That is why the Chilean State took on the task of promoting food safety, through existing bodies, such as the Institute of Public Health (IPS) and others, among which is the Chilean Agency for Food Safety (Achipia), a presidential advisory committee under the Department of Agriculture, which is responsible for the formulation of a national policy of food safety and food quality.
At the regional level it also exists - since 2012- a unit, within the State. A commission, in which ministerial secretaries and directors of services, advise the Intendant in everything related to the quality and safety of food. It also coordinates the public agencies that have responsibilities associated with these aspects and raises issues of regional importance.
Information provided by the Regional Deputy Secretary of Agriculture, Jorge Céspedes, refers to a diagnosis that gives an account of problems, such as low drinkable level of the water used for pesticide applications and for the hygiene of the raspberry farm workers and in the elaboration of fresh cheeses.
In the Maule Region, one of the institutions that has contributed the most in the area of food safety is the University of Talca which created a Center - the first of the country- exclusively oriented towards promoting the safety and hygiene of food from production to consumption between producers and traders. Its implementation came about in response to the many demands on food safety generated from the agro-industry, at the local level, and its realization was possible thanks to the awarding of a project funded by the Innovation Fund for Regional Competitiveness in 2013.
The activity of the Center is closely linked to the business environment, since it seeks to respond to the demands of current and potential markets in the field of safety in the industry of fresh fruit, meat and dairy products, honey, agricultural crops and processing, among other products.
Miguel Leoparti, Executive Secretary of Achipia, emphasized that to the extent that there are more and better solutions to the existing problems in various industries, "the greater the contribution to the development of the region will be."
In his opinion, it is very important to consider that the risks involved in food production have territorial expressions.
"It is not the same a food danger in Arica or in the United States than in the Maule Region. Microbiological, chemical and nutritional hazards vary due to socio-economic, territorial, cultural, anthropological and space conditions, therefore generating knowledge at the local level about these dangers is very important to contribute to the solution of the problems of the industry," said Leporati.
For her part, UTALCA’s Academic Vice President, Gilda Carrasco, stated that the action of the Center reaffirms the commitment and work of the University to that sector.
"The agro-food sector has been addressed by our Academic Institution for two decades, constituting one of its main lines of research, innovation and technology transfer," she stressed.
The Director of the Center for Food Safety (CIA) of the University of Talca, Ana Karina Peralta, mentioned the functions of this unit, which include the provision of laboratory services, management and technology transfer. In addition, it conducts research, training and technological monitoring.
In its accredited laboratory, the CIA analyzes samples, interprets results and identifies potential sources of bacterial contamination for companies to implement the measures that apply.
In addition, the functions of management and technology transfer, the director of the Center referred to the verification and validation of quality systems implemented by the companies and of Good Manufacturing Practices in food establishments such as restaurants and cafeterias. In addition, in terms of training, the CIA offers special courses.
An important part of the work of the Center is under the Research, Innovation and Development of Projects on Issues of Food Safety unit, geared at the needs of the agrifood sector of the Maule Region and the country. Currently, they are developing four projects, two in the O'Higgins Region and two others in the Maule Region, with funding from the Innovation Fund for Regional Competitiveness.
One of the initiatives that has shown results recently, is the "Transfer, Associativity and Safety in the Maule Region" project, which aims to decontaminate the water used for irrigation purposes, and to contribute to a safer production of vegetables.
To that end, the CIA created ecological systems to purify water for irrigation - artificial wetlands-, the first of which was established in the town of Lo Figueroa, in the Pencahue County, characterized by the production of vegetables that caters to the regional capital.
The solutions, which do not have chemicals added, are focused on improving the microbiological quality of the water for irrigation of agricultural holdings through a system of eco filters that fulfill the function of a natural wetland.
The system uses low-cost construction materials and maintenance, such as different types of grits, friendly to the environment and aquatic plants that, after the effect of the sun and the process of photosynthesis, enable depuration of pollutants from the waters, such as suspended solids, organic matter, chemicals, microorganisms, and others.
"Our intention is to improve the quality of the waters in the framework of a safe production of food in the Maule Region," said the director of the Center for Food Safety.
In this regard, he explained that there is a general lack of knowledge on the part of the farmers regarding the microbiological quality of the irrigation water used on their crops.
In the same area, Peralta stressed that, faced with high levels of contamination of irrigation water, it is vital to create a system of periodic monitoring, in addition to the incorporation of technology or filters to maintain the quality of the waters on a permanent basis, helping to decrease the risk for consumers.
This type of solution has been valued by the regional authorities and even by the Intendant himself, Pablo Meza.
"If we get a good quality of irrigation water, at low cost, easy implementation and with friendly solutions for the environment, we will be giving a significant step to remain competitive in the production of vegetables, which is concentrated in the hands of the small-scale agriculture that is a priority for our government," he said.
It noticed that since the Maule Region is the agricultural heartland of Chile, many efforts have been directed to promote the economic development of the region through this type of action.
In this project, the Vice President for Innovation and Technology Transfer of the University of Talca, Gonzalo Herrera, highlighted the purpose of supporting agricultural producers, especially the smaller ones, to produce healthy foods, without risks to the consumer’s health, and this can be achieved by using simple technologies, accessible to all, but of great effectiveness".
The opinion of farmer Cristian Bravo, from Lo Figueroa, also points in this direction: "The system will be a great contribution because I will be able to access other markets to sell my products".
Ana Karina Peralta said that artificial wetlands have an efficiency of over 90% and added that 10 other systems, such as the pilot systems of Lo Figueroa, shall be installed in other communes of the region, in partnership with Indap and Prodesal for the transfer to the farmers.
In this context, Gonzalo Herrera stressed that the Center operates in a network and in acoordinated way with the various actors involved in food production.
"Not only primary food is concentrated in this region, but there is also an important industry, and that is where we aim primarily, because the safety has progressively become a key factor to the acceptance of our products in the market," he said.
Other initiatives that are developed in the same University of Talca contribute with solutions to pollution problems that affect mainly the inhabitants of rural areas.
In particular, the Department of Engineering presented a device that is based on the generation of ozone and allows the inhabitants of areas that lack treatment with chlorine and cooling systems, due to the lack of electric power, to consume food and water without chemical and biological contaminants.
A prototype associated with this project, financed by the Fund for Energy Access, was implemented in the sector of El Melado, in the Colbún County. The director of the initiative, Diogenes Hernández, explained that this is about the development of automated prototypes.
"They get power from photovoltaic energy for the generation of ozone, the gas is highly oxidizing and it has been proven that it eliminates 99.99% of the microorganisms present in water and food, without causing damage to the human being," he said.
Ozone is generated by an autonomous system that channels this gas through two ducts, one of which goes directly to a pond where water is stored. Another duct goes to a chamber where the food is stored, which means that both systems are free of microorganisms, thanks to the presence of ozone.
To ensure the continued operation of the system, the energy needed comes from a photovoltaic system that consists of two 300-watts solar panels, connected to an inverter. This feeds directly to the ozone generator, which has a power consumption of 20 watts.
The Regional Deputy Secretary of Energy, Vicente Marinkovic, who got to know the scope of the project that, from another perspective, can also contribute to food safety, commented that "in addition to being an innovative proposal, it has a high percentage of applicability, since it can be installed in different mountain areas of the Maule Region and even in other places."
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