Heat, Meat And The Truth About Your Local Butcher

Everybody in India has seen the ubiquitous meat shops with carcasses of goats hanging in the open, the butcher cutting off pieces for customers, and flies swarming all over. Let’s not forget the yummy kebabs that my friends love, sold on the street near mosques especially during Ramzan.

I know a lot of people buy meat or chicken from these shops because it is generally cheaper and people think it is ‘fresh’. However, usually, it isn’t ‘fresh’ and most people in India are buying and cooking pathogen-infested, rotten meat.

Meat is an excellent source of nutrition, especially protein. The problem is that meat is also conducive to the growth of microbes, making it a product that spoils easily. This makes proper storage essential to ensure that meat retains its nutritional value and does not become a source of disease.

In order to ensure that meat remains fresh and doesn’t spoil, it has to be stored at lower than 4 degrees Celsius immediately after slaughtering, during transport, and storage. This is critical in order to maintain the nutritional value and shelf life of meat. However, a walk down the road anywhere in India makes it obvious that this isn’t happening. It has been reported that, in India, over 99% of food is sold by traditional retailers (kirana stores, local butcher shops, etc.), with only 5% of all poultry output being marketed in processed form. A study on street food made with poultry in Hyderabad found that a lot of it was contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus and/or bacillus cereus. Staphylococcus aureus is a common cause of skin and respiratory infections, and food poisoning. The study also found that only 7% of the vendors used refrigerators to store their poultry products before cooking. Refrigeration is necessary in a country like India since higher temperatures are more conducive to microbial growth. The same study found that chicken fried rice was the most contaminated among poultry-based street food in Hyderabad. Another study found a significant co-relation between literacy and standard of living and certain food safety practices. It found that over 82% of consumers don’t have refrigerators. This is a huge food safety problem in a tropical country like India, where temperatures routinely cross 40 degrees Celsius.

In order to combat this problem, India needs to urgently develop its cold storage industry, beginning with the farmer and ending with the consumer. Our lack of an adequate cold storage chain is not just a food safety problem; but a huge amount of food produced in India also ends up being wasted because of a lack of proper storage facilities. I believe that in a country with malnutrition levels like India, this is a criminal waste. Things are, however, getting better. In the latest budget, the Government permitted 100% Foreign Direct Investment in the food processing sector. This will hopefully pave the way for better infrastructure at all levels.

The wastage problem aside, I strongly recommend that people buy their meat only from a store or supermarket which has a good cold storage system, and keeps the meat on ice or in the freezer. If that isn’t possible, and you are forced to buy meat from the local butcher, make sure that the animal is slaughtered right then, and ALWAYS immediately store the meat in the freezer.