Adulteration of Food: An unchecked health hazard

Adulteration of Food: An unchecked health hazard

Let your food be your medicine
and your medicine be your food
~ Hippocrates

Food may originate from animal or plant source and may contain one or all of vital nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins. Food is consumed by all living organisms for growth and maintenance. However, it is unfortunate that one-third of the total harvested foods for human consumption is spoiled and lost before use. In today’s world, people have become conscious of the need of safe, nourishing, and hygienic food. Food adulteration threatens that need.
Food adulteration is defined as the process in which the nutritional value of food is decreased, either by the addition of inferior quality material or by extraction of valuable ingredients. The standard norms of FSSAI (2012) define adulteration of food as the addition or subtraction of any substance to or from food so that the natural composition and quality of the food substance is affected. Food should be free from any substance that is injurious to human health.
Diminishing the quality of food for petty material gains is a socio-economic problem, primarily witnessed in developing nations of the world. It is reported that about 22% of foods are adulterated, annually. Worldwide, around 57% of people have developed health problems due to consumption of adulterated and contaminated foods. The diminishing quality of different foods has been a great challenge in various countries of the world, including India.
At present, adulteration of dairy products is a major concern. Milk is frequently adulterated with harmful chemicals in India. The adulteration levels in the countryside may vary from 8%-13%, but it is alarming that in urban India the adulteration levels are a staggering 60%-68%. Diminishing the quality of food may lead to severe health issues for consumers. Adulteration of consumable items is widely prevalent in many third-world countries including India, China, Ethiopia, Mexico, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Somalia and others.
Consumable items are adulterated intentionally or get adulterated accidentally. Intentional food adulteration is generally done for monetary gain. In this regard, strict laws must be framed and implemented globally to punish the offenders who are deliberately playing with the health of people.
Food adulteration is a major threat, therefore detection of adulteration in food is an essential requirement for ensuring the safety of foods consumed by humans. Advanced lab techniques are available to check adulteration but they are costly and time-consuming. For this reason, it is urgent to develop uncomplicated, quick, perceptive, exact, low-cost screening tests, which can be widely employed in economically underdeveloped nations to detect commonly used adulterants in different forms of foods for the safety of consumers.
Raw vegetables and fruits are commonly adulterated with malachite green, wax, oxytocin, copper sulphate, saccharin, and calcium carbide. Milk in India is adulterated with water, urea, detergent, and fat, while khoya is adulterated with blotting paper, refined oil and skimmed milk powder. Black pepper is adulterated with papaya seeds. One study in India conducted in 2006 revealed that 64% of alcohol samples tested were positive for methanol content. It is pertinent to mention that consumption of even 30 milliliters of methanol can be fatal.
Causes of adulteration of food include demand and supply gap, perishable nature of consumable products, poor purchasing power of customers, unorganised condition of dairy industry and other food processing units, lack of strict and effective regulatory system, lack of appropriate, rapid and definite tests, and of course, the lack of ethics and greed of people.
The FSSAI, 2012 norms classify adulterants into three types, namely, intentional, incidental and metallic. Intentional adulterants that are added in foods include water, sand, stones, chalk powder, marble chips, talc, to name a few.
Incidental adulterants include droppings of rodents, larvae in foods, and pesticides residues.
Metallic contaminants include lead, arsenic, effluent from chemical industries, etc.
Adulteration degrades the quality of food and also causes health hazards. Adulterated food is impure, unwholesome and unsafe for human beings. Humans are very sensitive to food adulteration, and sometimes exhibit instantaneous side effects, such as diarrhea, dysentery, and vomiting. It is reported that 57% of people (32% children and 25% adults) have developed health problems due to ingestion of adulterated and contaminated foods worldwide. The consumption of adulterated foods can lead to various illnesses like stomach disorder, heart problems, brain damage, paralysis, lack of sleep, liver disorder, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, giddiness, diarrhea, dysentery, acidity, ulcer, autism, cancer, kidney malfunction, joint pain, asthma, metabolic dysfunctions, food poisoning, eyesight problems, skin disorders, etc.
Polluted water acts as vehicle for pathogens that cause diseases. It is reported that unhygienic water is most commonly added in milk, and ingestion of such adulterated milk can result in diseases of multiple etiologies, which include viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminthes. Some of these diseases carry high morbidity as well as mortality in both sexes and in all age groups.

Dr Rayees Bhat works with Dept of Chemistry, Babasaheb Bhimrao Ambedkar University Lucknow, U.P. Dr Sajood Maqbool Bhat works with Dept of Chemistry, Govt S G S and P G College, Sidhi, M.P.


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