By Dr. Bhagya B. Sharma
Mangaluru, Oct 1, 2018: Prasada the divine food is a significant part of Hindu traditions. Any material substance such as sweet, flower, cloth, fruits etc offered to Deity is called naivedya. After the rituals the devotee receives the divinely offering called Prasada which he uses or distributes among other devotees. A variety of cooked dishes such as payasa, laddu, pongal, puliyogare (tamarind rice), curd rice, modaka, appam, meals etc and uncooked prasada like milk, flavoured water, panchamritha, sugar candy, salads of sprouted pulses etc. are the main types of food distributed in temples. Temples are high energy centres. Food offered at the temple imbibes divine energy and transforms into Prasada. Food prepared as naivedya is cooked in a pristine state without tasting. It is important to maintain high standards of cleanliness while preparing, cooking and offering food to the presiding Deity. The utensils and ingredients used should be clean. People who make prasada should have bath and maintain cleanliness in the kitchen. Unique preparations are made in each temple to offer as prasada. Standards for making of prasada exist but commercialization and modernization has undermined the sanctity of the holy prasada. Today, Temple prasada making is a commercial enterprise. The standards have declined due to mass production. The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) regulations are not being followed in temples. Most Temples do not follow food safety regulations such as displaying the date of manufacture and date of expiry, the list of ingredients used, ingredients used and safety of the containers used are not standardised. Mostly plastic or tin cans are used for the ease of packing and distribution.
Plastics have transformed the society and made day to day activities very easy. However concerns about effects on human health, animals and environment are challenging. Chemicals used in manufacture of plastics are toxic. Additives such as phthalates and bisphenol A(BPA) have adverse health effects. Plastics leach chemicals into the environment and also adsorb harmful substances from surroundings. When plastic comes in contact with heat it causes the chemicals to leach into the food. Similarly BPA commonly found in tin and aluminium cans cause health issues. These chemicals are carcinogenic and cause a range of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, neurological disorders, low IQ, and infertility.
In Temples with high influx of devotees, prasada is prepared in bulk in factories and stored. In India there are more than 3 million places of worship and visited by millions everyday. In all these places prasada is prepared using bare hand without any hygienic guidelines and testing for safety. Devotees falling sick due to food poisoning and even death due to consumption of prasada have been reported. Forty five people were critically ill and hospitalized after having prasadam from Tripura temple in November 2013. Two people died and 50 people showed symptoms of food poisoning after consuming buttermilk and panakam prasada at Sri Muthu Mariamma Temple in 2013 from Bengaluru.
Nearly 20 people took ill after consuming temple prasadam served on the occasion of Sri Rama Navami festival in Nellore district during March 2018. Two women died and about 37 people fell ill after consuming pongal made from unhygienic ghee at Sri Selvamuthu Mariamman Temple, Mettupalayam from Tamilnadu in April 2018. Explosion of the payasa tin, foul smelling of prasada, health issues due to use of poor quality ingredients and poisoning or contamination of the prasada with insects or unusual materials are commonly seen. Laddu’s are prepared in large quantities most of the time in unhygienic conditions. The boiling hot payasa, a concoction of rice, jaggery and coconut is commercially made in large quantities in factories located at remote locations. It is then machine packed into plastic or tin containers. The containers are then sealed, transported and stored at room temperature. During this process chemicals get leached into the food due to extreme hot conditions. Continuous exposure to BPA has serious health issues as endocrine disruptors.
Most temples do not follow the prescribed standards of food safety nor are they inspected for the ingredients and preparations. Regulations for the ingredients used and procedure standardization for making of prasada needs to be implemented. Training in hygiene and food safety for the cooks should be made mandatory. Display of date of manufacture and date of expiry along with ingredients and preservatives used should be made mandatory. Till then devotees need to exercise caution while buying plastic and tin packed prasadams.
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