Festival time is a time of celebration and rejoicing but anything can go wrong if you bring home the wrong foods this Diwali. Sometimes FBOs are ignorant of regulatory provisions, workers lack training and sometimes deliberate adulteration to extend profit margins can render foods harmful. Even if you cook the Diwali delicacies at home you can become ill because of adulterated raw materials. Therefore when purchasing raw material, make sure they are bought from a reliable vendor who has an FSSAI license. Before you buy sweets, dried fruits, chocolates, cookies, juices, snack foods etc. check labels on the packaging for the FSSAI logo and license number, ‘the best before/expiry date, the batch/lot number, list of ingredients, nutritional information which are some things that help you to select the right foods.
For food manufacturers one of the key aspects is to provide safe food to consumers. To control and prevent food adulteration FBOs need to be careful about
- raw material supply chain
- the cleanliness of the premises, equipment used during processing
- personal hygiene of workers handling food
- correct use of permitted food additives, colours and ingredients
- food grade packaging material
- regular testing of raw materials, food products and water
Sweets can leave a bitter taste
Since sweets are the most sought food item during festivals, unscrupulous adulterators can deliberately add substances that can cause health problems. Some of the ingredients that go into making sweets are khoya, vark, ghee, oil, milk, artificial flavours and colours. All these items can be deliberately adulterated for monetary gains. Milk can contain something as harmless as water but could also contain chalk, urea, soap and chemical whiteners. Khoya can contain paper and starch. Rasgullas that are made from channa which can come from adulterated milk. Vark could be aluminium and not pure silver. Ghee could contain vanaspati or even animal fat.
- To check if milk is adulterated pour a few drops on a smooth slanting surface, if it leaves a white trail it is not adulterated and if it immediately slides down it contains water. Pour some milk into a bottle, cap it, shake it, if it lathers up there is soap in it.
- Add a teaspoon of soya powder to milk and mix it well, dip litmus paper in the mixture. If it turns red or blue discard it because it could have urea,
- To test ghee and vanaspati add a little sugar and hydrochloric acid and if they turn crimson it means they are adulterated.
- Rub a little vark between your fingers, if it disintegrates it is pure and if it forms a ball it is adulterated
- Avoid buying brightly coloured and elaborately decorated sweets as these could contain non-permitted artificial colours.
Are chocolates better?
Chocolates have taken precedence over sweets as a gifting item and if the chocolates are not branded they could be adulterated with heavy metals as they are made from cocoa which could contain copper and lead. Chocolates could also contain starch or lard. The FSSAI has fixed the maximum permitted level of heavy metals in the Food Safety and Standards (Contaminants, Toxins and Residues) Regulations, 2011. However chocolates are also deliberately contaminated by some unscrupulous businessmen who could
- Use inferior quality sugar
- Add starch to the cocoa
- Add minerals to increase weight
- Use non-permitted artificial colouring
Avoid buying chocolates that are not branded or are from an unknown manufacturer even if the retailer says they are genuine chocolates. Some manufacturers imitate the looks of chocolates of branded companies and pass them off as genuine chocolates. Chocolates can be tested for starch adulteration by adding water. If the chocolate becomes grainy and breaks, it is sub-standard.
Juices might not be natural
In recent years, packaged juices have become popular as gifting items but it is possible that all juices are neither ‘natural’ nor ‘pure’. You must read labels carefully as only those juices marked 100% natural will have no added sugar. Orange juices may contain colour additives which are not permitted under the food regulations. Apple juice can be made from spoiled apples and these could contain toxic fungal metabolite that can cause nausea and vomiting. Juices could also contain thickeners, emulsifiers, additives and added flavours to make them more ‘drinkable’ as all fruit juices can’t possibly have the exact same taste in every batch. Juices can contain residues of pesticides and fungicides as these are used extensively on fruit crops and so need to be tested in laboratories. Thy may also have high fructose, corn syrup or sugar syrup, beet sugar artificial or nature identical flavours, potassium sulphate, monosodium glutamate, ascorbic acid, etc. Always read label so you know the exact ingredients as fruit “beverages” are sometimes erroneously labelled “juices” and could in fact contain very little fruit content.
Are the dried fruits coloured
Sweets are losing out to dried fruits and an increase in the demand is leading to adulteration of this delectable and healthy food. Since size is one of the factors that decides the price of dried food adulterators soak dry fruits in acids like acetic acid and citric acid which increase the size, makes the nuts glossy and acts as a preservative. Pistachios are one of the most adulterated dried fruits as they are mixed with peanuts dyed green. Raisins may also contain artificial colours. The artificial colour could be malachite green which is non-permitted for use in foods. Non-permitted colouring agents can lead to headaches, vomiting and can even impact the unborn foetus in pregnant women. Buy pistachios with shells and not the shelled variety.
- To detect colour add a handful of pistachios in 100ml of boiling water, if the water turns green it means it is adulterated.
- To detect colour in raisins place a few raisins in 5ml water add 5ml HCL. If colour is visible in the upper layer of the container the raisins are adulterated
- To detect acid in dried fruits take some dry fruits and sprinkle water on them. Apply litmus paper to the sprinkled water if the colour of the litmus paper changes it means the dried fruits contain acid.
Packaged snack foods and cookies
Packaged snack foods and cookies have replaced the more expensive Diwali foods like sweets and chocolates. However, these food products could contain hydrogenated fats, modified starch, flavour enhancers, colours, and several food additives so as to make the product palatable and appealing. One of the best methods to use when selecting these foods is to check the ingredients list. If they contain names of ingredients that you do not normally use in your kitchen you should minimise their use. They could contain ingredients like fructose syrup, protein isolates, bulking agents, thickeners, emulsifiers, colorants and flavour enhancers. Moreover, these foods are likely to be high in salt, sugar and fat which intensify the taste and increase shelf life but could cause health problems. If you buy them from petty vendors these snack foods could be made in cheap oil used again and again leading to high content of trans fats. Ingredients in biscuits like hydrogenated vegetable oil, refined sugar, refined flour or additives are not a ‘healthy’ choice of foods.
If you buy sweets, savouries and cookies from shops and local bakeries then it is important to check out the cleanliness of the premises and hygiene standards of the food handlers.
Are the premises clean?
Is there fly proofing?
Are the display cases well maintained?
Are the foods stored in controlled temperatures?
Are food handlers wearing clean clothes?
Are they wearing gloves while packing sweets from the counter?
Are they chewing or smoking tobacco?
Are they touching their mouth, nose, eyes or other body parts?
Are they spitting, sneezing, or coughing near food?
Are they handling food and money simultaneously?