Traces of formalin found in fish sold in Tirunelveli, Tenkasi

G.A. Bushra Shabnam, Assistant Director, Department of Fisheries, testing fish at a retail shop in Palayamkottai.  

In what is certainly not good news for seafood lovers, officials of the Departments of Food Safety and Fisheries have seized fish preserved with formalin, a poisonous cancer-inducing chemical used as disinfectant or to preserve biological specimens in laboratories.

When the officials led by G.A. Bushra Shabnam, Assistant Director, Department of Fisheries, Tirunelveli, recently conducted surprise checks in six shops — three each in Palayamkottai and Melapalayam — they detected fish preserved with formalin. They seized around 25 kg and destroyed them immediately.

Similar surprise raids conducted in Tenkasi and Melagaram also led to seizure of 10 kg of fish preserved with formalin.

Since the retailer told the officials that they made the puchase from wholesale traders, the officials could not zero in on the real culprits who sprinkled formalin on the fish to extend its shelf life.

Traders in Tirunelveli and Tenkasi, who buy fish mostly from Thoothukudi and Kanniyakumari districts, also purchase the seafood from Kerala either directly through auction or from bigger sellers. At times, they also buy from Rameswaram, Pamban and Mookkaiyoor fish markets in Ramanathapuram district.

Following information about the sale of fish preserved with formalin, Ms. Bushra Shabnam and officials drawn from the Department of Food Safety and Tirunelveli Corporation swung into action that led to seizure of fish preserved with formalin from retail traders in Palayamkottai and Melapalayam.

The officials say fish preserved with formalin does not have any specific smell and the texture stays hard even if it is stale. Moreover, a sliced portion treated with the chemical will be white instead of the natural flesh colour.

“It can be detected by using a kit costing about ₹450 and marketed by Kochi-based Central Institute of Fisheries Technology and a private firm. When two drops of the colourless chemical reagent in the kit is added to the flesh of the fish put in a test tube with distilled water, it will turn from colourless to pink within 30 seconds, indicating the presence of formalin,” says Ms. Bushra Shabnam, winner of the prestigious Dr. T.J. Varghese Award.

The kit can be used to conduct 300 samples within three months.

Food Safety officials too say that awareness among consumers is paramount even though frequent surprise checks will be conducted in the markets.

“When we raided the fish traders in Palayamkottai, we found the use of formalin to preserve the fish, mostly Sankara variety. The samples have been sent for analysis. While buying, the texture should be checked as it should not be unusually hard. Those who can afford to buy the test kit, may go for it,” said an official who participated in the raid.

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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 1:13:51 AM |

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