In a vast Country such as India, fish is often caught at one place and then transported as quickly as possible to consumers who are located in the hinterland hundreds of kilometres away. Owing to shortage of Refrigerated Warehouses or even refrigerated trucks, the fish is transported in ice in open trucks and often get held up at border crossings and toll booths, leading to spoilage of the fish which may lead to huge financial losses to the traders. With a view to extend the shelf life of fresh fish and give it an appearance of artificial freshness, unscrupulous traders often lace the fish with formalin and other poisonous additives such as ammonia and sodium benzoate. Formalin is the cheapest and most convenient option, since formaldehyde, from which formalin is made is readily available in the open market. It is a colourless liquid and though it has a distinctive odour in the concentrate form, dilution with water reduces the same and since the formalin is injected deep into the fish, the odour does not permeate to the surface. Injection by Formalin also helps the gills to maintain their bright red colour and prevents the fish from turning soft. Formaldehyde is not permitted for use in foods as per Foods Safety and Standards Regulations, 2011.
Formalin is known to have serious health issues and can cause damage to vital organs such as the pancreas and kidneys. The International Agency for Research on cancer (IARC) has classified formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.
FSSAI, in collaboration with ICAR and CIFT have drawn up a set of guidelines for consumers, traders and food testing laboratories on the best practices to be followed to avoid, restrict and detect adulteration of fresh fish by Formalin.
Advice to Consumers :
- The fish must be washed in running water to remove traces of Formalin.
- Fish to be cooked to internal temperature of 70°C or more as the chemical formaldehyde degrades at such high temperatures. Fish to be physically checked to see if it is opaque and whether it separates easily.
- If obnoxious smell persists even after washing, matter to be reported to Food Safety Officer
- Fish Adulteration can also be checked by use of the rapid detection kit “CIF Test” developed by ICAR-CIFT for checking added formaldehyde.
[ Information in the public domain posted by third parties also mention the texture of the eyes as a dead give away : fresh fish will have clear eyes and they tend to become more and more cloudy if they are stored over long time ]
Advice to Traders
- Obtain the Fish only from reliable sources.
- Ensure proper cold chain when transporting fish over long distances.
- Screen the fish for formaldehyde content during procurement.
Advice to Food Testing Laboratories
- Ensure that the samples to be tested are wrapped in polythene before placing on ice.
- At least 100 g of edible portion of the fish muscle to be taken when preparing sample.
- Screening to be done using the “CIF Test” kit developed by ICAR-CIFT. The paper to be swabbed over the surface 3 to 4 times in different areas of the fish followed by the addition of one drop of reagent. The colour developed to be checked against the colour chart provided in the kit.
FSSAI has issued through a vide notification dated 10th June 2019, the following ad-hoc limits of formaldehyde in fish and fisheries products:
|Fresh fish including molluscs, crustaceans and echinoderms||4mg/Kg for fresh water origin|
|-do-||100mg/Kg for brackish/ marine origin|
These limits to be applicable till the Scientific Panel of the FSSAI makes a final decision.