Over the years, we have witnessed a massive sea change in the way we consume foods. We see a lot more varieties of foods and the choices are aplenty for the Indian consumer. However, little do the Indian consumers know that food adulteration exists, in large doses. In a first of its kind, to a packed audience, Moneylife Foundation hosted a seminar titled “Food Adulteration And How It Affects You” by Dr Arvind Shenoy, an expert with over 42 years of experience in food analysis and testing. Dr Shenoy, apart from talking about food adulteration and its effects on the society and individuals, also gave a live demo on how to check adulteration in food items like milk, turmeric, red chilli powder, etc.
Dr Shenoy cites that as much as 25%-30% of edibles sold in the market are intentionally adulterated. This is an astoundingly high figure! He says, “It is difficult for the consumer to detect the extent of adulteration. It can be intentional, unintentional or natural”. He also gave live demos to check for adulteration towards the end.
He said unintentional adulteration is the result of spill over effects from chemicals such as pesticides, fertilizers and even during early stages when insects enter crops in farms. Some of the examples are toxic varieties of pulses, mushrooms, green and other vegetables, fish and sea foods. It is estimated that about 5,000 species of marine fish are known to be poisonous, and many of these are among edible varieties.
He listed some of the side-effects of consuming adulterated foods. Some hazards include body ache, anaemia, abortion, paralysis, pathological lesions in vital organs, abnormalities of skin and eyes, to name a few. During the presentation he gave a comprehensive list of foods consumed, its adulterants and the health hazards involved in consuming each one of them. For instance, consuming edible oils, contaminated with white oils and edible fats, causes cancer! He also talked about how sweets are contaminated with metanil yellow, a carcinogenic, to give colours. He listed out various adulterants and their side-effects, in each category—intentional, bacterial, chemical, fungal and natural—which proved very useful and eye-opening for the audience.
He also listed ten major ways by which adulteration and contamination is done. They are—genetic modification (which is increasing in prominence in India), processing contaminants, hormones injected in animals, military sources, packaging materials (especially used for packaged foods), agrochemicals (vis-à-vis fertilizers and pesticides), heavy metals (such as mercury and lead), increased industrial and manufacturing wastes (which eventually finds its way into the food chain), unsafe sewage practices and, the most prominent, bacterial infection.
Dr Shenoy showed the audience how to detect adulteration in milk. He said, milk is mostly diluted with water. However sometimes, they use starch, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), urea, sugar, hydrated lime, formalin, ammonium sulfate and sodium carbonate, to make milk thick. He showed how one can detect neutralizers like hydrated lime, sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate in milk. One can take 10-15 ml of milk, add same quantity of alcohol to it followed by 5-10 drops of rosalic acid. If the milk is adulterated then it will change its colour to pinkish red. If there is hydrogen peroxide in the milk, one can add 5-7 drops of paraphenylene diamine in 10-15 ml of milk and shake it well. If the colour changes to blue, then it is adulterated. If milk is adulterated with starch, it turns blue when few drops of tincture of iodine are added.
Similarly, turmeric powder is adulterated by using rice flour; saw dust, metanil yellow or yellow clay. Presence of clay can be detected by adding water to turmeric powder. After some time, the clay will settle down leaving the turmeric at the top. If the turmeric sample turns violet instantly after adding few drops of concentrated hydrochloric acid, then you would know that it contains metanil yellow, a carcinogenic compound.
Red chilli powder is often adulterated with brick powder, salt power or talc. Dr Shenoy added a teaspoon of chilli powder in a beaker filled with water. Coloured water shows presence of artificial colours. Also, pure chilli powder settles slowly, impurities like brick powder or sand settle faster.