As against the common belief that India is predominantly vegetarian, 64.4 per cent families consume non-vegetarian food with the highest reported in southern states (92.2 per cent) and the least in north (40.4 per cent).
Besides, a majority of families, that is, 63 per cent, store leftover non-vegetarian food at room temperature. While only 29.4 per cent consume stored food after thorough heating, others expose themselves to the risk of food-borne diseases.
This and many other interesting revelations were made by the Hyderabad-based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) in its 'Knowledge, attitude, beliefs and practices (KABP) study on food and drug safety in India'.
The report was released by the Union minister of state for health and family welfare, Panabaka Lakshmi, in Hyderabad on October 16. The study covered a proportional random sample of 20,719 households drawn from 82 districts of 28 states.
The results of the study indicated that Indians mostly cook food twice a day (78 per cent) using solid fuels (about 76 per cent) in a common place or verandahs and serve hot food (54.3 per cent).
Most families store leftover food (86 per cent) in covered containers (99 per cent) and leave at room temperature and consume with next meal (67.8 per cent). Only 21 per cent consume the next day.
With regard to food safety practices, the study revealed that almost all households wash their hands before undertaking all activities pertaining to food handling viz cooking of food (92 per cent), serving (90 per cent), eating (98 per cent) and after eating (98 per cent). "Spoilage of food is usually determined by smell (48.7 per cent) and rarely by appearance (18.4 per cent) and taste (about 10 per cent)," it said.
"It is disappointing that though 59 per cent claim to buy packed food, only 21 per cent of them look for the symbols on food labels.
About 51 per cent stated that they get information on food labels from the TV and 16 per cent get the same from the radio. As regards the quality symbols on food labels, ISI is known to 77.8 per cent households and Agmark to more than half of them while 22 per cent know the Food Products Order (FPO)," the report said.
Over 26 per cent always check the list of ingredients on food labels while 43 per cent check the same sometimes or rarely and 30 per cent never check this information on the label. It is encouraging that over 75 per cent of them check the 'best before use' date, it added.
The findings on drug safety reveal that 86 per cent claimed to consult a qualified doctor (government 43.1 per cent, private 33 per cent and RMP 9 per cent). About 80 per cent claimed that the chemists always insist on prescription while half of them said that they do not take either prescription or a substitute drug from the chemist.
While 67 per cent buy medicines only in packed form, only 46 per cent check the expiry date on the pack.
About 54 per cent do not know whom to complain in case of food adulteration and over 29 per cent do not bother to complain, the study said, adding that widespread ignorance of legal rights and fundamental responsibilities became evident even in the focus group discussions with women.