Food adulteration rampant in state: Report

CHANDIGARH: Not only commonly sold food items like milk products, desi ghee, tea, spices like turmeric, chillies and black pepper, but packaged water also have high adulteration levels in the state.

Varinder Singh

Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, June 9

Not only commonly sold food items like milk products, desi ghee, tea, spices like turmeric, chillies and black pepper, but packaged water also have high adulteration levels in the state. The adulteration percentage in these food products has been on the rise during past five years.

Reports of food samples collected by Punjab Health Department officials from across the state and tested at the Chandigarh-based state government food laboratory over the past five years has indicated that adulteration of milk, milk products like desi ghee, edible oils, pulses and mineral water had witnessed a steep rise, causing concern among health officials and common people.

Milk, bought by the people for the sake of good health, contained harmful and cancer-causing chemicals like urea beyond the permissible limit of 700 particles per million (PPM).

Products like soy flour, sucrose, glucose and starch, desi ghee are often laced by unscrupulous retailers with cheaper vegetable oils, palm oil and artificial flavouring agents.

Similarly, mustard oil was adulterated with crude rice bran and household spices like turmeric were found to be mixed with cheap rice bran plus the addition of carcinogenic non-permitted colours.

Interestingly, Punjab has the ‘highest’ rate of failed food samples in the country.

If the sample failure rate of milk was 22.2 per cent in 2011, it had reached 44.1 per cent in March this year.

Similarly, the quantum of failed samples of other milk products like desi ghee, ice cream had jumped from 23.1 per cent in 2011 to 45 per cent. The percentage of failed milk and other milk product samples then went down in April to 24 per cent and 24.5 per cent respectively.

Ordinary filtered and packaged water was being ‘mis-branded’ in a large number of cases after the removal of micro-organisms as ‘mineral water’ without any mandatory ISI or BIS certificate. “It is not mineral water at all. It is just packaged plain water in most of the cases,” said a health official on the condition of anonymity.

Tea leaves were found adulterated with iron flakes to increase their weight while the silver foil used to improve the look of sweets like ‘burfi’ was being substituted with aluminium foil, which is harmful for human health.

Pulses were found to have been adulterated with non-permitted artificial colours while black pepper was mixed with papaya seeds with a motive to earn more money by unscrupulous traders.

Products like ‘supari’, ‘pan masala’ and ‘gutkha’ had a high level of adulteration as 66.7 per cent samples failed in 2012 and 23.3 per cent in April this year. “Pan masala and gutkha samples had presence of harmful and habit-forming tobacco and nicotine,” said Ashok Kumar, food analyst at the state-run Food Laboratory.

Hussan Lal, state Food Commissioner, said the health department was determined to curb food adulteration. “Our field officials have regularly been collecting samples of various items and getting these checked at our food laboratory,” he said.

Dr HS Bali, Joint Food Commissioner, said people were becoming aware and coming forward with complaints with respect to mis-branding and adulteration on the round-the-clock state health helpline and at the department email address.

“People are more aware now. Sometimes, we even get calls at the helpline at midnight from consumers,” said Dr Bali.

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