The menace of food adulteration in India

Chemicals claiming health of consumers


March 6, 2018

/ By / New Delhi

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Other than quality ingredients being used in the manufacturing of products, sanitation also remains an issue

Unethical food manufacturing practices continue across the country, as a big section of the food sector remains unrecognised. While use of chemicals seems to be a major challenge, issues like basic sanitation also prevail.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the primary body governing food standards in India, recently raided a private transport office in Vijayawada, a city in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh. The authority seized 2,700 kg of  adulterated ghee or clarified butter, a common household product in India.

Residents of the city and health experts are now worried about the quality of food that is up for sale in the local markets and stores. Daily consumables such as fruits, vegetables, and other groceries are suspected of being adulterated or misbranded, also creating fear amongst the public, of falling ill after consuming them.

More commonly, the people being targeted are from economically weaker sections, ones who would  prefer to buy inexpensive products and not go for brands in order to restrict their expenditure.

In the recent raid conducted at Vijayawada, the FSSAI found that the ghee manufacturer did not have a proper manufacturing unit, nor did he have the necessary permissions or licenses.

Cases like this are not new to the city. In February this year, food safety officials, with the aid of police had raided a chilli manufacturing unit and seized poor quality chilli powder prepared with chilli waste and sawdust. While 600 kg of chilli powder was seized, 100 kg salt and 100 kg black gram were  also found.

“We have registered over 200 criminal cases against adulterators for endangering public health. More such raids will be conducted to put an end to the adulteration menace in the city,” the Indian media quoted FSSAI assistant controller N Poornachandra Rao.

Vijayawada also made it to news when a confectionery factory, that manufactured popular locally consumed candies, was raided for not adhering to norms. The candy’s main ingredient, liquid glucose, was found without a manufacturer’s label, manufacture or expiry date, and the owner claiming random purchase of the ingredient. The FSSAI also observed a mismatch between the license numbers issued by it and the ones on the label.

The adulterated liquid glucose was found to be harmful for the intestines of children who would have consumed the candies.  The faults and frauds could have cost severe health damages too, for there was a mismatch between the ingredients used by the manufacturer and those printed on the product labels.

The situation is unpalatable in other Indian cities too, where small store managers become part of the menace by not buying their stock from credible sources.

“We only buy branded products either directly from companies or authorised channels. By serving quality products over the years, we have been able to establish our store as a brand,” says a representative of a super-store that has various outlets across New Delhi. “There are wholesale markets, like the Khari Baoli in the capital, where loose, adulterated stuff is easily available, and where local and small store owners buy their stock from,” he adds.

Chemically challenged

In 2017, a report emerged showing a number of chemicals and adulterants being added into several jaggery-making units.

Jaggery units in Karnataka, a southern Indian state where the natural sweetener is heartily consumed, were raided to see what is going into the manufacturing process. Higher levels of sulphur dioxide residue, chemicals such as hydrose and safolite, and sodium hydrosulphite were found to be used in the manufacturing of jaggery.

It is not uncommon in India to come across such instances. The country has a large unorganised food sector, about 75 pc of the total food business, bringing about many new challenges.

Food adulteration is a punishable offence under the Penal Code of India, but that does not seem to be barring people from using unauthorised measures and practices.

FSSAI along with food and drug officials often conducts raids and inspection drives across the country to monitor the quality of food being sold. Although, several manufacturing units have been locked and slapped with fines for practicing adulterated methods, there is not much in place to monitor the practices of the several vendors, who sell food on the streets. Quality of food ingredients, sanitation of shops are often an issue.

Indian confection, whose sale sees a surge during many festivals taking place all around the year, is one of the most common sub-standard product that is abundantly sold, with the manufacturers allegedly indulging in unfair practices to make fast money. “Covert use of toxic chemicals like metanil yellow, muriatic acid and lead nitrate by traders to make variety of sweets cannot be ruled out completely,” a leading Indian daily quoted a sweets shop owner.

“We are a small shop, so we do not make sweets on our own and instead buy from someone who makes them in bulk. In many instances, it is at the source, that the makers adulterate stuff,”  a local sweet shop owner told us rather coyly.

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