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The menace of food adulteration has eating now become a calculated risk?

By N.S.Venkataraman

(May 31, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) The supply of adulterated food and spurious / outdated drugs is a heinous crime. It can be justifiably said that those who indulge in such supply practices are mass murderers, as the impact of such misdeeds on the innocent consumers is severe and often life threatening.

While it is obvious that those who indulge in such practices are unscrupulous and greedy elements, the question is as to how they dare to indulge in such practices, inspite of the severe legal measures that can be enforced against them. It is very difficult to carry out such practices , without the knowledge of the concerned officials and all powerful government machinery. Obviously, such practices are the result of collusion between the criminals who indulge in such practices and the corrupt government officials. In the government machinery, it is difficult for any one individual employee to collude with such criminals without the knowledge of the other government employees in the department at the lower and higher level. It goes without saying that the root cause for such adulteration practices is the collusion between the group of government employees at various levels in the concerned departments and the unscrupulous persons who adulterate the food, make spurious drugs and sell the outdated drugs in the market.

One of the pre requisites to totally curb such obnoxious practices is to ensure corruption free administration in the government machinery, which is supposed to be the watchdog. The ministers and top bureaucrats and senior police officials should have the will to do so. One cannot but say that the prevalence of the adulterated food and drug in the market is a reflection on the character and quality of the overall administration.

Subtle and crude ways of adulteration

Adulteration of food takes place in many ways and some of them are subtle and some of them are very crude.

Even the liquor sale outlets are reported to be selling the liquor that is well diluted with water at retail level, with specification of the sold liquor far different from the prescribed norms. One would not even know as to what quality of water would be used for diluting the liquor meant for human consumption.

It is reported that cow dung powder are mixed with dhania powder or other flour, to increase the weight. Well designed stones being systematically mixed with the rice and wheat are also not uncommon. Even use of blotting paper in the preparation of ice creams have been reported.

Artificial ripening of the fruits with harmful chemical like calcium carbide has often been reported.

There are number of chemicals that are used as additives in food products and sugar. Such chemicals used should be of food grade in specification which is high purity level. Often the food companies use technical grade chemicals instead of food grade chemicals to save cost , as the price of technical grade chemical with lower specification would be less compared to food grade chemical. For example, the sugar industries are supposed to use food grade phosphoric acid that would contain no arsenic or sulphur. But, several sugar units are said to be using technical grade phosphoric acid and such practices go largely unnoticed.

Use of artificial colours

There are many synthetic colours which are produced and now extensively used for colouring the food products as well as the fruits. Most of these chemicals can be undesirable additive.

While natural plant extracts were largely used in the food colourings earlier, the synthetic colours have replaced the natural plant extracts in recent times to a considerable extent.

With imposition of ban on use of several synthetic dyestuffs (colours) particularly in Europe in recent years, the natural colours are gaining importance around the world. But, this is not the case in Asian countries.

However, not all the natural colours are safe to use. Although plants exhibit a wide range of colours, not all of these pigments can be used.

* Some do not dissolve in water
* Some cannot be adsorbed on substrates
* Some others fade when washed or exposed to air or sunlight.
* Therefore, the use of plant materials as natural colour have to be selective. In the case of natural colour, there is lack of standardization and consistency in specification and product quality. There is need for the use of a mordant for enhancement of the fastness properties of natural colours in some cases.

Regulation default of ayurvedic drugs

According to the Health Ministry of Government of India, over half of the companies in the Rs 80,000 million Indian Ayurveda industry default when it comes to compliance with the regulatory requirements of domestic manufacturing standards. The data was compiled in collaboration with state drug regulators of India.

Shelf life and storage

Apart from the quality of ingredients used in the product, the shelf life of the products and conditions in which they are packed and stored are also vitally important. We often see food items being sold in public places and mutton shops operating in open and in unhygienic surroundings. Several shops do not maintain proper refrigerated conditions for storage of food items and meat products and it is not uncommon to see foul smell emerging in such shops.

Food products from tiny entrepreneurs

There are several tiny entrepreneurs who make food products like pickles, papads in the household and distribute it to the consumers. These pickles and papads are not subjected to any test or certification procedures and one would not know as to what would be the content. There are umpteen number of shops who make snacks and no one would know the type of oil used for cooking the product and other additives added. Many examples can be readily cited.

While the producers in the organized sector could be indulging in deliberate adulteration to multiply their profit , it is possible that the tiny entrepreneurs make the products with a level of innocence and they themselves may not be knowing the extent of contamination in the ingredients. As these products are consumed by people of various age groups and health conditions, any harmful impact can be even life threatening.

Has eating become a calculated risk?

The fact is that we have army of food inspectors and drug inspectors in the government and they are conspicuous by their lack of vigil and lethargic attitude and perhaps willful collusion with the adulterators in some instances.

The citizens seem to be living today in conditions where they really do not know the quality of the product that they consume and eating has become a calculated risk.

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