After Maggi noodles controversy over the lead content, startling facts about food safety is coming to the fore.
Around 13% of food items, including packaged water, ice cream and milk, tested by Maharashtra’s food safety regulator between March 2014 and April 2015 were either labelled substandard or unfit for human consumption.
The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA), as part of its routine testing activity, sampled 8,663 food items and found 1,162 samples to be of “poor quality”, with many having misleading or incomplete labelling as it in case of Maggi noodles.
The state FDA found that all 20 Maggi noodles samples tested by them contained monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food addictive, even when the packet stated “no added MSG”.
FDA inspectors, who regularly visit eateries and food stores to collect samples randomly, found that packaged drinking water was mislabelled.
The Mumbai FDA found that four of the 10 packaged drinking water samples had a bacteria count far above the prescribed safety limits, making it unsafe to eat. “Some did not have proper labelling, while others did not have the licence to even manufacture packaged drinking water,” said a food safety officer.
According to the Food Safety and Standard Authority of India, the Bureau of Indian Standards lays down quality norms for packaged water.
Another food category that fared badly in the test was milk.
Milk adulteration is the most common problem, said FDA officials.
The FDA collected packaged and unpackaged milk from urban and rural areas. “We found that milk sold in and around Mumbai had low fat and solid-not-fat (SNF) counts than the limits prescribed in the Act,” said a food safety officer.
Last month, FDA officials busted a milk adulteration racket in city slums where milk sold in packets were repackaged after adulterating it with water.
A similar exercise conducted at the national level revealed that 68% of the milk samples tested did not confirm to the standards laid down in the Act and had to be listed as substandard.
Food Safety officers also collected ice cream samples from stocks stored in unhygienic conditions at the warehouse of a major brand. The ice cream packs did not have proper labelling of its contents. “Ice cream cups were stored in extremely unhygienic conditions that could lead to contamination,” said a senior FDA official from Thane, who is pursuing the case as the manufacturer has violated 25 counts of the food safety regulations.
The ice cream packets have been sent for testing.
Officials said that after the laboratory testing is done, the aggrieved party can appeal against the findings and the samples will be retested at a referral laboratory. “Any sample we test is divided into multiple portions. We keep one portion for sending it to the referral laboratory for testing,” said U Vajnari, joint commissioner (food), FDA.
Ghee, oil, masala powders, flour and mawa (a milk-based ingredient widely used in preparing sweets) are other food items which are commonly found to be substandard. Earlier, the state FDA had slapped Rs50,000 fine on a Byculla restaurant for using colouring agents to cook chicken lollipop. “We not only collect food products but also dishes served at eateries for testing. We also check the overall hygiene of the manufacturing place as well as the kitchen,” said Suresh Annapure, joint commissioner, FDA.