The chance of being seriously affected by Covid-19 increases with obesity or being overweight, according to experts. Studies have shown that 36% of adults in England are currently defined as overweight, whereas 28% were classified as obese.
Body fat contains high levels of an enzyme called ACE2 to which the coronavirus can attach itself, giving it access to cells. This can have a direct impact on blood, immunity, inflammation and especially respiratory function.
Obesity prevention measures
To raise awareness of these issues and attempt to tackle obesity, the Government this week announced a crackdown. This involves providing calorie information on menus for restaurants with over 250 staff. It also includes a proposed ban on bulk buy offers on fizzy drinks and foods with a high fat, sugar or salt (HFSS) content. Television advertisements for ‘junk food’ are to be banned before 9pm to discourage children from wanting highly calorific products
This initiative to reduce consumption of sugar, fat and salt is nothing new. We have been told that obesity costs the NHS in excess of £4.2 billion. Steps have already been taken by food manufacturers to reduce fat, salt and sugar in their products. For example, Pladis has previously reduced sugar by 9% and salt by 5% in its McVities Digestive biscuit. This was achieved over a period of time to ensure that there was no compromise on taste or texture.
The reformulation of products is not something that can be achieved overnight. As well as the palatability factor, there is also the aspect of food safety to consider. Sodium (salt) and sugar are both food preservatives. They help to reduce the growth of pathogens and spoilage bacteria by reducing the water activity in foods. This is turn extends the shelf life of the products.
Fat in foods has a huge impact on flavour, so reducing the fat in, say, a yogurt, means that in order to make it as tasty, you need to substitute something else. This is often sugar or a sugar substitute.
Reduced sugar, fat or salt – increased food safety risk?
Of course, swapping out ingredients in the recipe for a popular product means that you will need to assess the food safety risks. Will the substituted ingredient perform as well to inhibit the growth of bacteria? What are the new critical control points and critical limits to ensure that the product is safe? How will the shelf life of the newly-formulated product be affected?
It’s worth remembering that the largest ever outbreak of food-borne Clostridium Botulinum in the UK, was caused by reducing the sugar content in a product. The hazelnut puree used in several brands of hazelnut yogurt had reduced sugar by substituting with saccharin. However, it had been under processed, allowing the bacterium to grow within the product.
HACCP knowledge is essential
It is imperative that HACCP plans are reviewed whenever any change takes place. This could be changes to ingredients, changes of equipment, or changes to process. Reviewing HACCP plans means that any potential food safety risk can be identified, and the appropriate preventive action taken.
Any product reformulation requires a new HACCP plan to be produced. Make sure that the relevant people in your company are trained in how to produce, verify and validate a HACCP plan. Or if it’s at least 3 years since your staff took their HACCP qualifications, a one-day HACCP Refresher course will keep them up-to-date.