They used to say ‘watch what you put in your mouth.' Given the incidents of the past few months, there is probably a need to revise that statutory warning to a stage before that: ‘Watch what you pick up.' Especially, food and drugs.

After the rather high-profile seizure of drugs with altered expiry date markings by the Drugs Control Directorate in Tamil Nadu, it has been the turn of packaged and preserved foods to let consumers down. P. Kannan, Joint Director, Prevention of Food Adulteration, in the Directorate of Public Health, says raids have been conducted throughout the State to check if food products are being stocked and sold beyond their expiry date.

“We have seized such expired foods from all over the State. They are predominantly biscuits, chocolates, grocery products, frozen foods (including meat and fish products in the cities,” he said. While these seized products have been destroyed, it is likely this is just the tip of the iceberg. Unless there is public awareness about the standards for stocking and selling food products, and that awareness should convert into quality-seeking behaviour, the situation is unlikely to change much, he adds.

Corporation Commissioner Rajesh Lakhoni said that on top of the list of foods seized was stuff that most people buy on a regular basis – like breads, cakes, chocolates, biscuits, spices and pickles. “It was shocking to find that the meats being sold in the city were on display one year after the expiry date. It is not as if this is happening at one segment of traders. Big or small, major or minor, expired goods are being sold across the board.”

Former State Health Authority Food Safety chief K. Jeyakumar, says “One-year past expiry is way too long. The maximum period it can be used for is three months. The products will slowly begin to degrade over the months, it will be ideal to consume it before that.” Eating meat that has exceeded the expiry date, can lead to even salmonella poisoning; tetanus, para typhoid, typhoid and gastritis. The worst case scenario is that it can even affect the central nervous system and haemopoetic system. The idea is that after expiry, the food becomes unfit for human consumption. The texture of the food changes, as do its constituency and taste, he adds. Contamination by bacteria or viruses is also likely; chemical decomposition occurs and food poisoning can occur, Dr. Jeyakumar explains.

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