Adulteration of food, a Deep Rooted Social Evil

“This Article is developed in lieu of General Awareness to Common People, the article is developed in accordance with Authors Personal experience and Adulterants declared by FSSAI and USFDA. The identification and conformity are just to check the presence, further confirmation can be followed by Approved Food testing Laboratories (FSSAI).”

Adulteration of food Cheats the consumer and poses a serious risk to health. A common consumer may not have sufficient knowledge about purity and quality of food articles he consumes. Mere visual inspection does not serve the purpose especially when adulteration has assumed high degree of sophistication. 

Overview of Food and its Quality Aspects Pertaining to Adulteration

Among man’s everyday needs, food plays a major sustaining role. From the simple dish to the most elaborate haute cuisine, food preparation is as varied and rich as man’s taste. 

The lure of riches and general apathy towards mankind has led to adulterants being added to food from the simple stones in rice to the more harmful brick and boric powder. 

Adulteration of food commonly defined as “the addition or subtraction of any substance to or from food, so that the natural composition and quality of food substance is affected. 

Adulteration is either intentional by either removing substances to food or altering the existing natural properties of food knowingly. Unintentional adulteration is usually attributed to ignorance’s, carelessness or lack of facilities for maintaining food quality. 

The common man, unfortunately, remains largely unaware of these adulterants and consume food without thorough checks. Some of the common adulterated foods are milk and milk products, atta, edible oils, cereals, condiments (whole and ground), pulses, coffee, tea, confectionary, baking powder, non-alcoholic beverages, vinegar, besan and curry powder. 

Adulteration of food cheats the consumer and can pose serious risk to health. Mere visual inspection does not serve the purpose especially when adulteration has assumed high degree of sophistication. Consumer awareness is the remedy for eliminating the evil of adulteration and sale of substandard food article. The simple and quick test which can be easily performed to ascertain the purity of a food product are published here in view of the current food safety situation and hence, “Quick Test for some Adulterants in Food” has been developed to protect the households/ small industries  and common man in the country against food adulteration. 

A set of two instruction manuals have been developed i.e. Part I and Part II. Part I incorporates simple testing procedures which can be easily performed in the households and simply help the consumer to screen their day to day food articles. Instruction manual Part II however, incorporates testing procedures which require specific chemicals, reagents and glassware’s and cover a wider range of adulterated food group.  The scope of this manual limits to small industries/ Food vendors / NGO’s etc but for detailed confirmatory test and quantification the analysis in a laboratory is a must .

Packaged Food & Dietary Supplements

The food scarcity is increasing day by day and demand of packaged food and dietary supplements are increasing parallely. FMCG sector is grown rapidly in past few years aggresively. The cooked food is replaced by packaged food and nutritional supplements. 

The Morning breakfast starts with packaged drinks or powders and ends with supplementation. The consumer only checks the claim which is shown by marketer or seller, however they do not tends to see the ingredients in it. Consumer must check the contents of packaged foods and must verify them,

  • The Ingredients section
  • The source of Fat (which should be mentioned in back side what type of fat source is used)
  • Protein Source
  • Adequate amount of vitamins and minerls
  • Any type of preservatives
  • Sugars and their sources whether they are artificial or natural 
  • Manufacturer and its license information
If the source and the above details are missing the product must be in doubtful category.

Food Adulteration

What is Adulteration? 

Food is the basic necessity of life. One works hard and earns to satisfy our hunger and relax (enjoy) later. But at the end of the day, many of us are not sure of what we eat. We may be eating a dangerous dye, sawdust, soap stone, industrial starch, and aluminum foil and so on! Contaminated foods and drinks are common sources of infection. Often, we invite diseases rather than good health. 

Food adulteration is an act of intentionally debasing the quality of food offered for sale either by the admixture or substitution of inferior substances or by the removal of some valuable ingredient. Food Adulteration takes into account not only the intentional addition or substitution or abstraction of substances which adversely affect nature, substances and quality of foods, but also their incidental contamination during the period of growth, harvesting, storage, processing, transport and distribution. 

“adulterant” means any material which is or could be employed for making the food unsafe or sub-standard or mis-branded or containing extraneous matter; 

Food is adulterated if its quality is lowered or affected by the addition of substances which are injurious to health  or by the removal of substances which are nutritious. It is defined as the act of intentionally debasing the quality  of food offered for sale either by the admixture or substitution of inferior substances or by the removal of some  valuable ingredient.   

Food is considered as adulterated if:  

A substance is added which depreciates or injuriously affects it.  

Cheaper or inferior substances are substituted wholly or in part.  

Any valuable or necessary constituent has been wholly or in part abstracted. 

It is an imitation. 

It is colored or otherwise treated, to improve its appearance or if it contains any added substance          injurious to health. 

For whatever reasons its quality is below the Standard 

Adulterated food is dangerous because it may be toxic and can affect health and it could deprive nutrients essential for proper growth and development.  

Very often food is adulterated by merchants and traders who are unscrupulous and want to make a quick profit. But shortages and increasing prices, consumer demands for variety in foods, a lack of awareness, negligence, indifference and lethargy among consumers and inadequate enforcement of food laws and food safety measures also lead to food adulteration. 

Some of the common adulterated foods are milk and milk products, atta, edible oils, cereals, condiments (whole and ground), pulses, coffee, tea, confectionary, baking powder, non-alcoholic beverages, vinegar, besan and curry powder.

Food Adulteration Science arena

Types of Adulterants: 

Type                                                 Substances Added 
Intentional Adulterants         Sand, marble chips, stones, mud, other filth, talc, chalk powder, water,                                                                 mineral oil and harmful colour. 
Incidental adulterants         Pesticide residues, droppings of rodents, larvae in foods. 
Metallic contaminants         Arsenic from pesticides, lead from water, effluent from chemical                                                                            industries, tin from cans. 

Classification of Adulterants on the basis of their Effect/intend on Consumption

Poisonous or Deleterious Substances 

Generally, if a food contains a poisonous or deleterious substance that may render it injurious to health, it is adulterated. For example, apple cider contaminated with E. coli O157:H7 and Brie cheese contaminated with Listeria monocytogenes are adulterated.  
If a food contains a poisonous substance in excess of a tolerance, regulatory limit, or action level, mixing it with "clean" food to reduce the level of contamination is not allowed. The deliberate mixing of adulterated food with good food renders the finished product adulterated  

Filth and Foreign Matter 

Filth and extraneous material include any objectionable substances in foods, such as foreign matter (for example, glass, metal, plastic, wood, stones, sand, cigarette butts), undesirable parts of the raw plant material (such as stems, pits in pitted olives, pieces of shell in canned oysters), and filth (namely, mold, rot, insect and rodent parts, excreta, decomposition.

Economic Adulteration 

A food is adulterated if it omits a valuable constituent or substitutes another substance, in whole or in part, for a valuable constituent (for instance, olive oil diluted with tea tree oil); conceals damage or inferiority in any manner (such as fresh fruit with food coloring on its surface to conceal defects); or any substance has been added to it or packed with it to increase its bulk or weight, reduce its quality or strength, or make it appear bigger or of greater value than it is (for example, scallops to which water has been added to make them heavier). 

Microbiological Contamination and Adulteration 

The fact that a food is contaminated with pathogens (harmful microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, or protozoa) may, or may not, render it adulterated. Generally, for ready-to-eat foods, the presence of pathogens will render the food adulterated. For example, the presence of Salmonella on fresh fruits or vegetables or in ready-to eat meat or poultry products (such as luncheon meats) will render those products adulterated. 
For meat and poultry products, which are regulated by USDA, the rules are more complicated. Ready-to-eat meat and poultry products contaminated with pathogens, such as Salmonella or Listeria monocytogenes, are adulterated. For raw meat or poultry products, the presence of pathogens will not always render a product adulterated (because raw meat and poultry products are intended to be cooked and proper cooking should kill pathogens). Raw poultry contaminated with Salmonella is not adulterated.  

In our fourthcoming article we will discuss over the detecting methods for common adulterants found in food: 

Methods for Detection of common adulterants in Sweetening Agents

Methods for Detection of common adulterants in Food Grain & Their Products

Methods for Detection of common adulterants in Spices

Methods for Detection of common adulterants in Common Kitchen Items

Food Adulteration Act, FSSAI, Image courtesy ByJus

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