Andheri resident Sunita Agarwal has become extremely cautious while shopping for groceries. Like many consumers in the city, the increasing use of adulterants in daily food items, including fruits, vegetables, spices and even tea, has led her to be sceptical about everything she eats.
“All these food items look appealing, ripe and big. When you eat them, you realise that they either taste different, or are not as ripe,” said Agarwal.
Consumers’ fears are not without reason. Recent tests carried out by several organisations have shown presence of adulterants in several items have you consume regularly, including milk and fruits. Commonly used adulterants include harmful chemicals and substances such as iron filings, washing powder, or even animal dung. While some of them are carcinogenic (can cause cancer), others can affect the liver, kidneys or the digestive system.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Mumbai seized 6,000 kg of mangoes that had been artificially ripened using calcium carbide – known to be carcinogenic. It can also precipitate calcium deposits in the body.
In tests carried out by the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE), high levels of antibiotics were found in honey, a natural product. Antibiotics are used to keep the beehive disease-free for honey bees. Small doses of antibiotics ingested over a period of time can have chronic health affects and reduce immunity.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) took 1,791 milk samples under its National Survey of Milk Adulteration in 2011. Eight percent of the milk samples had been mixed with detergent, which can result in food poisoning and gastro-intestinal complications.
Taking serious note of the concerns over food adulteration, the Bureau of Indian Standards on Monday organised a seminar on Food Safety – Role of Standards in the city on Monday. Stressing on the importance of food standards, Union minister for consumer affairs, food and distribution system VK Thomas said: “Standards promote public health by reducing the risk of food-borne illnesses.”
“The consumer needs to be aware. If they come across adulterants in food items, they should immediately collect information about the vendor, collect samples and report it to the FDA” said Sitaram Dixit, chairman, Consumer Guidance Society of India (CGSI).