Food is at the epicenter of life. The times may have changed but the importance of food has remained. What scares us is that when food is impure or contaminated, it may be life-threatening as well. This puts the consumer in a constant dilemma of what to eat and what not to eat. Food and the environment have always been in an unbreakable multilateral relationship. Therefore, food adulteration not just challenges life but also threatens the environment.

Understanding Adulteration in Food

Section 3(a) of the Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 defines adulterants as “any material which is or could be employed for making the food unsafe or sub-standard or misbranded or containing extraneous matter”. Apart from this the section (zf) also defines “misbranded food” addressing a category of adulteration in food.

Adulteration is the intentional or unintentional addition of fresh-food mimicking ingredients into the food product to alter the quality, appearance, smell, or texture. This is usually done by manufacturers to earn extra profit, but it may be poisonous for consumers in a long run. At present, the majority of food & beverages available in the market have some kind of adulterant leading to poor quality & health hazards.

Frightening Rise of Adulteration in Indian Food

Over the past decades, India has become a hub of adulteration in the food market, especially packaged & frozen foods. This is termed a consequence of the increasing population in the country. The consumption of adulterated food products sees a visible rise during festivals & the lack of public awareness further aggravates the condition. The trend of adulteration is increasing in daily consumption of food items like grains, spices, milk, dairy, and others.

As per the data sourced from FSSAI Annual Reports, the food adulteration rate in India has almost doubled in the past 5 years. In 2011-12, the food adulteration rate stood at 13%, which increased to 23% in 2016-17. Long back in 1998, the Canadian government warned its citizens not to consume food products cooked or processed in oil from India because of ‘Argemone’ adulteration.

If these facts aren’t enough for you to be frightened, between June 2016 and February 2017. FSSAI received 1722 complaints & 98 of which were confirmed cases of harmful adulteration.

Melamine, a nitrogen-rich compound with 67% nitrogen Per Mass Unit, is used to increase protein content in milk & wheat gluten. In India, sample nonconformity was found 31% out of 81% of unpacked milk samples in the rural area. In the urban areas, out of the 67% unpacked nonconforming sample, they found 8% detergent, 45% skimmed milk powder, and 27% glucose.

Health Risks from Adulterants & an Unsettling Insight

Many incidents report adverse impacts of food adulteration on human health. The addition of undesired minerals in edible oils and fats may cause paralysis or cancer. Heavy metals adulteration may cause infertility & abortions in women. These harmful elements further cause brain damage, liver damage, and several other allergies. Adulterants may trigger stomach problems, digestive disorders, liver or kidney failure, and other health ailments. Eating mislabelled food products can lead to the intake of unwanted allergens in the body and cause severe allergies. These can also cause headaches, migraine, dizziness, fatigue, and nutritional deficiency.

The presence of chicory powder in coffee can cause nausea, joint pain, and other stomach issues. The presence of zinc substances can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Mouth-watering burfis can cause cancer because of the presence of illegal dyes and colors.

There are several adulterants like sawdust, leaves, and powdered products as starches that can be used in spice species to earn profits. Adulteration of milk with synthetics which contains a mixture of harmful substances like urea, caustic soda, or vegetable oil. Although 189-400mg/L urea is present naturally in milk, the cut-off limit concentration is fixed at 700mg/L as per FSSAI, 2012 regulation. The addition of cheap rated palm oil in mustard oil and rice bran oil is also prevalent to earn economical profits.

Requirement of Authentic Laboratory Testing of Products for Food Adulterants

Section 66 of The Food Safety and Standards Act, 2006 envisages the liability of the Companies in the event of any offense of adulteration or misbranding. One must be careful in laboratory tests for food adulterants as only an approved, authentic, accurate, and genuine laboratory with a good turnaround time (TAT) can provide precise results.

Below is a list of some of the articles listed by FSSAI in its regulations over the years to prevent adulteration in food items:

  • Article 50. Penalty for selling food, not of the nature or substance or quality demanded
  • Article 51. Penalty for sub-standard food.
  • Article 52. Penalty for misbranded food.
  • Article 54. Penalty for food containing extraneous matter.
  • Article 57. Penalty for possessing adulterant.
  • The takeaway for Companies in Food & Beverages Sector

If you are a food and beverages manufacturer company, then you must steer carefully and safely by complying with all international and national regulations imposed by statutory authorities. This is the first step in ensuring the trust factor with your potential customers. If companies can find and eliminate adulterants, the consumers will be rid of the silent killer hiding in their houses in plain sight.

Cultivator Phyto Lab is an accredited & authorized state-of-the-art testing facility in compliance with global standards, where you can confirm the safety of your customers & growth of your brand. We offer comprehensive food adulteration testing services to all kinds of manufacturers & consumers.