Four mobile food testing laboratories — Food Safety on Wheels — were flagged off in Chennai on Thursday. The laboratories are equipped to do basic tests to identify adulteration in food samples including oil, tea powder and sugar, and will follow a scheduled tour programme to take up testing of samples in fixed locations.
Last year, the Health department, as part of announcements for 2022-2023, planned the rollout of mobile food testing laboratories in Coimbatore, Salem, Thanjavur and Tirunelveli districts at a cost of ₹1.92 crore. These units, which now take the number of units in the State to six, will travel to all the 38 districts and will be stationed in crowded public places such as markets or thickly populated residential areas and test food samples, according to Health Minister Ma. Subramanian.
These vehicles will create awareness on food safety through videos and test food samples, he said. “For instance, we now saw how a bottled soft drink can be tested in the laboratory. The sugar content in the soft drink was analysed and was found to be less than the content printed on the label.” If such an analysis found higher sugar content, the department would take it up with the manufacturer, he said.
Similarly, the percentage of fat in milk can be analysed. He said different kinds of food such as tea powder, jaggery, sugar, salt and packaged drinking water can be analysed on the spot, he said.
An official of the Food Safety Department said the mobile units had facilities to identify basic adulteration. “For instance, we can find out if cooking oil is old or rancid, or if it is adulterated. We can analyse protein and fat content in milk and colour additives. If higher analysis is needed, samples can be sent to the Food Analysis Laboratory,” the official said.
The official said the mobile unit was deployed in Tiruvannamalai during the “Maha Deepam” festival. “Each of the units are assigned a certain number of districts. We prepare an advanced tour programme which is uploaded on the FSSAI website. When these vehicles are stationed in a locality, people can bring samples for testing and the food safety officers will coordinate,” the official said. Lab analysts were deputed to these units.
Mr. Subramanian said the tour programme of the vehicles would be publicised through the Food Safety department. Already, food quality-related complaints can be put forward through 104, the State health helpline while complaints along with photographs can be sent to the department on WhatsApp number 9444042322.
Health Secretary P. Senthilkumar, Director of Public Health and Preventive Medicine T.S. Selvavinayagam and Commissioner of Food Safety R. Lalvena were present.