When you gorge on sweets this Diwali, do stop to take off the thin silver foil decoration on it. The varkh, or the ‘edible’ silver foil used for coating sweets, are made from metals that can be harmful for your health. And if you are vegetarian, and biting into that burfi offered after a puja, chances are that you are eating a non-vegetarian offering.
Tests conducted by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Pune, confirmed that the silver foil used in food items, such as sweets, paan, supari, and chawanprash, is increasingly being adulterated with aluminium, a hazardous metal. “The long hours of beating the foil in pouches of leather and goat epidermis is extremely unhygienic and it also causes their remnants to mix into the silver foil,” said Dr Sunil Srivastava, of Beauty Without Cruelty, an NGO that has worked on the dangers of silver additives in food.
HT visited one of the workshops where silver foils are made to find that the conditions there are extremely unhygienic.
Eight labourers, crammed into a tiny room were hammering away amidst a lot of noise. “We get small pieces of silver, and place them between a bound booklet of around 300 pages, out of which approximately 20 pages are made of a goat epidermis. The booklet is then placed inside a leather pouch, and beaten with a hammer for up to eight hours till they turn into thin silver sheets,” said Mohammed Akram, a labourer.
Although the metal HT found being used was silver, workers agreed that some factories use harmful metals to cut costs.
Shop owners though deny this. “Pure silver foil is bought to make sweets. We buy them from Khari Baoli,” said Jagdish Agarwal, proprietor of Bengali Sweet House, Bengali Market. He denied knowledge about use of adulterated foils.
“It is hard to put a figure to how many people suffer from consumption of harmful metals in food items, as it is tough to detect. But consumption of aluminium is especially hazardous to health. Aluminium accumulates in tissues, particularly the bone. It can also enter the brain and damage the placenta and foetus,” said Dr Karuna Chaturvedi, chief dietician, Apollo Hospital.