Last week, Food Safety Officers in Coimbatore found that almost half of the ghee samples they collected were ‘substandard’. Most samples of ghee did not even provide the FSSAI mandatory nutritional value on their product. Some of the labels on the ‘substandard’ ghee did mention that it was not fit for consumption. However, the font is so unreadable that most ghee samples have been booked for misbranding too.
Vanaspati adulteration was more rampant and of a substandard quality. Vanaspati is basically hydrogenated oil and contains a high percentage of Trans fatty acids (TFA). TFA level in vanaspati depends on multiple factors and could be as high as 50-60% of total fat content.
The vanaspati industry routinely uses hydrogenation process to harden and stabilize liquid vegetable oil. Hydrogenation also helps to maintain the taste of the oil while giving it a longer shelf life; however, unsaturated fat gets converted into saturated fat during processing.
Studies carried out by National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) showed that both saturated fatty acids and TFA were not good for health as they could lead to diet related chronic diseases. An Associate Professor in the department of nutrition and dietetics at a local college in Coimbatore pointed out the Vanaspati is a cheaper alternative to ghee but use of adulterated and substandard vanaspati could lead to delayed digestion and the need to use up more antioxidants in the body.
Food Safety Officers confirmed that it was basically the smaller players that produced ghee at home. They bottle and retail it themselves and do not supply it to the known brands. Most of the ghee is retailed in petty neighbourhood shops. When questioned they claim that the ghee is specially made for temple donations, especially for Sabarimala pilgrims. However, when selling the product the shop owners rarely ask the customer for the purpose for which they are purchasing the ghee, since they assume it is of local knowledge.
Even cooking oil samples collected were found to be of substandard quality. Bran oil is regularly sold as groundnut or gingili oil as they are the same colour. Since people cannot differentiate from the flavour most manufacturers escape detection. According to regulations, a mandatory labelling of TFA & SFA content on vanaspati packs, edible oils or any other product containing TFA from vanaspati sources is essential. This is necessary to enable informed choice by consumers. Food Safety officers therefore have advised consumers to buy oil and ghee that comes from well known brands and which are correctly labelled as per the labelling guidelines. The packets must be sealed and contents must be in 100ml to 200ml sachets so labels are readable.
The food safety officers are likely to crack down on manufacturers of adulterated samples in the coming week. Once the legal samples are collected they are likely to face legal action. However, officers say that sealing the manufacturing units is difficult as manufacturers simply shift base and continue their activities from their new location.