Tony Deep
Chairman and founder of leading Indian foods manufacturer
East End Foods, on the importance of tracing food back to its source

Do you know what you are eating? Do you know where all the ingredients come from, how they were harvested and where they were before they reached your plate?
The answer is probably not. We pride ourselves on being able to eat food from across the world, but we seldom stop and think about how that food is sourced.
Being able to trace your food all the way back to its source is becoming more important to the British consumer. The Sudan 1 scare last year brought into sharp relief the fact that it can be hard to ascertain exactly what substances are hidden in the ingredients we buy. This lack of knowledge dents consumer confidence across the board, affecting all food manufacturers regardless.
To satisfy our demands, buyers are going further afield to source ­exotic produce that can be sold at reasonable prices. But this emphasis on price can result in products landing up on the shelves that are not what they seem.
Take Indian chillies for ­example. When they are harvested, the chillies are typically laid out to dry in open fields before being taken to market. This drying process can ­expose the chillies to cross-contamination from bird droppings, other pests and aflatoxin growth (a ­fungi that is carcinogenic if consumed in large quantities).
Once dried, chillies - including those affected with aflatoxin - are then taken to market without further quality checks and sold to local merchants. The aim is obviously to get the highest price possible, so what would it matter if a few chillies aren&'t at their best?
Equally, when the chillies are ground for powder, if the colour isn&'t right or the quantity is small, who will know if a few extra ingredients are added?
This is what could end up on the supermarket shelves - chilli powder that has been adulterated with potentially harmful ­&'extras&' to maximise profit. So isn&'t it the responsibility of UK spice buyers to insist that their suppliers are following the best prac­tices right from source, to ensure the highest level of food safety for consumers?
I travel to India many times a year to speak directly with farmers and work with them to produce the highest quality chilli crops for use within East End Foods.
On the chilli farms, pesticides are commonly used during production to ensure a higher crop yield. We educate farmers to use minimal amounts and help them to ­invest in temperature-regulated tents to dry the chillies. We also check through the crops, removing any spoilt or poor ­quality chillies, and export the remaining healthy chillies to our plant in the UK. Here they go through further stringent checks to ensure the end product is 100% pure, high grade chilli powder.
Cutting out the middleman means that we get a higher quality product at a fair price and we also help farmers generate more income. Working like this reduces the time from when the chilli is har­vested until it reaches the plate and preserves both taste and aroma. It also ensures that the risk of carcinogenic aflatoxins present within the chillies is minimised.
Global markets should not mean that quality and purity get lost in transit as it is our customers who will lose out. In the same way as Jamie&'s School Dinners turned a generation of children away from chicken nuggets by showing them exactly what they contained, British consumers could lose faith in ethnic cuisine if they find out what really happens to the majority of their spices before they reach the plate.