Festivals come annually they bring in their wake a lot fun and cheer but along with these the fear of food hazards is also very real. As you all know during festivals there is a sudden spurt in the demand for large quantities of traditionally consumed foods. For instance during Holi the demand for gujiyas, fried snacks and savouries as well as thandai increases manifold. Many FBOs prepare them in large quantities both in the organised and unorganised sector. Not only do licensed sweet shops sell them but the roadside stalls that spring up during festivals, also sell them so they can make some fast money.
Are the gujiyas prepared hygienically?
Bulk preparation and storage of gujiyas and savouries, if not carried out according to proper hygiene practices and sanitary conditions could lead to bacterial contamination which causes food borne illnesses. The foods served on roadside stalls as well as in unlicensed shops are often left exposed to houseflies, dust and unhygienic handling which can again contaminate them. Unlicensed shops and roadside vendors are not likely to prepare these gujiyas in permanent kitchens that are clean and have potable water and washing facilities. There is no way of knowing what kind of oil they have used for frying the gujiyas and savouries in and how many times they have used the same oil for frying, which could be full of trans fats. These foods could also be subject to cross contamination due to improper storage especially if there is space limitation. Preparation of gujiyas, sweets and savouries begins much ahead of the festival due to increase in demand. A number of vendors hire inadequately trained casual staff to help with the increase in demand. Since they are hired in a hurry they may be suffering with some illness as they would not have undergone a medical examination. Therefore consumers must be selective about where they buy gujiyas or savouries from. Here are some check points to keep in mind.
Are you buying foods from licensed/registered vendor?
Does the vendor have a clean and tidy shop with clean floor, walls, ceilings, etc.?
Are there pest and fly control arrangements in place?
Does the vendor have proper preparation and adequate hand washing arrangements?
Are the food handlers wearing caps, gloves and aprons?
Are the gujiyas being prepared fresh?
How adulterated is the khoya and milk?
Besides food contamination food adulteration is equally hazardous and quite prevalent during any major festival. Due to high demand it is possible that the raw khoya used in gujiyas and sweets is adulterated with starch and therefore of inferior quality. Since khoya has a very short shelf life and if it has been prepared much in advance it might not be fresh or can be contaminated especially if it has not been stored appropriately in the right temperature.
What colours are permitted in foods?
Besides gujiyas, sweets and savouries are also part of Holi celebrations. To make them attractive a number of sweetshops owners colour these food products in brightly so they look attractive. What most consumers do not know is that a number of colours used in these sweets and savouries are illegal and not permitted by FSSAI. A number of non-permitted colours used in foods are illegal, highly toxic and carcinogenic so avoid buying any foods that are brightly coloured. FSSAI permits the use of the following colours whether derived naturally or manufactured artificially.
- Carotene & Carotenoids including Beta-carotene, Beta-apo 8′- carotenal, Methylester of Beta-apo 8′ carotenoic acid, Ethylester of Beta-apo 8′ carotenoic acid, Canthaxanthin
- Riboflavin (Lactoflavin).
- Curcumin or turmeric
FSSAI has also placed the maximum limit of colour in foods to 100 mg per kg of food or one gram in 10 kg. In certain foods the maximum limit is 200 mg per kg of food. Even if the vendors use permitted colours the limit should not exceed 100 mg per kg. However, if the sweets and savouries were to be tested it is possible that the limit in some sweets exceeds the permitted levels. Some food products consumed during Holi like thandai as well as gujiyas contain kesar of saffron. Since saffron is an expensive item quite often adulterators use colours and mislead consumers into thinking they have used kesar in the food products.
Are these free of contamination?
During Holi having the cold beverage thandai and products like dahi vada are also popular. However, since both thandai and dahi vada have one main ingredient milk and curd made from milk, beware of adulteration. Milk can be adulterated with starch, detergent, urea or can even be made synthetically with chemicals. Another major ingredient in thandai is sugar. It might come as a surprise to know that unscrupulous vendors adulterate powdered sugar, used in making thandai, with chalk powder or white sand. Since these foods are sold cold it is important that the food handlers have been properly trained to follow proper hygienic norms or they could be contaminated. After preparation cold foods must be stored with proper temperature controls in place as they are more prone to contamination. They must also be consumed within four hours of preparation. There are many sweets that need to be refrigerated or the possibility of contamination with bacteria increases which can cause severe diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. While you enjoy the fun and frolic of Holi also ensure that the foods you buy for your family and friends are safe.