When looks are deceiving

LOOK BEFORE YOU EAT Adulterated products could lead to ailments

LOOK BEFORE YOU EAT Adulterated products could lead to ailments   | Photo Credit: PHOTO: S. MAHINSHA

Dr. Vijayalekshmi tells ARYA ARAVIND how to spot adulteration in food

Say the word Onam and images of a lavish spread come to mind. However as you go shopping for ingredients for the `ona sadhya,' beware of adulterated food products. For as Thiruonam dawns, as part of your menu, you might be having soap stone, sand, lead, mercury, highly toxic chemicals and even cow-dung, inviting diseases rather than good health. And what are the consequences?Cancer, paralysis, cardiac arrest ... and more, says Vijayalekshmi, Head, Department of Applied Nutrition in Trivandrum Medical College.Dr. Vijayalekshmi advises buyers to be choosy about what they are buying. "People are attracted by the colour of edible items and buy them. They do not realise that such items might contain lead chromate, metanil yellow dye, and the like,'' she says.A food article is adulterated if its quality is lowered by the presence of ingredients that are injurious to health or by removal of nutritious components. Turmeric is a basic ingredient in our diet. It can be adulterated with lead chromate, which adds colour and weight to this `masala.' When taken at regular intervals, it can cause anaemia, paralysis, mental retardation, brain damage and abortion in pregnant women. Another toxic non-permissible dye is Metanil Yellow. It is mostly used to lend colour to besan or gram flour, pulses, ladoo and burfi. Saw dust, rice bran and sand are often added to coriander powder and chilli powder while Ultra Marine Blue might be present in bright white coloured puffed rice.Argemone seeds and oil when mixed with mustered seeds and oil can cause dropsy, irregular fever, enlargement of liver, respiratory problems which result in heart failure and even death.

How to spot adulteration

However this does not mean you should stay off food and live on air and water. Dr. Vijayalekshmi offers tips to check whether the food you eat is adulterated or not. To find sand in groundnut, all what one has to do is take about 25 grams of groundnut and spread it in on a white sheet and examine it with a magnifying glass. Using a magnetic piece, one can identify iron particles from rava and other wheat items. According to Vijayalekshmi, adulteration in chilli powder, salt, green pea and sugar can be detected by mixing them in water. If dust is found at the bottom of the glass for chilly powder and salt, then it has been adulterated. For sugar, mix it in water and insert a red litmus paper into it. If the colour of the litmus paper turns blue, one could be certain of washing powder in it, she says.Washing, scrubbing and soaking can rid of surface contaminants in fruits and vegetables. Proper cooking helps destroy harmful microorganisms. Solid or liquid foods with thick consistency must be stirred.Most economical and practical means of preventing microbial growth in food is to limit the available moisture content of food and to keep it at low temperatures.Moisture content and temperature control are crucial in preventing fungal growth and formation of mycotoxins or fungal toxins.

Checking labels

"Consumers are advised to go for packed items on which proper informative labels are displayed, which include the date of manufacture and expiry as well. They should stress on products with I.S.I, F.P.O or AGMARK certifications," she says.

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