Fraud is something most of us fear. Food contamination caused by counterfeit and adulterated ingredients is generally not easy to detect. Food fraud incidents in India have risen from the year 2018 and now due to outbreak of coronavirus pandemic, the occurrence of food fraud has skyrocketed alarmingly across the length and breadth of the country.
Worldwide, the scale of food fraud is estimated to be around $50 billion a year, a massive industry and one that sets out to cheat and deceive consumers and businesses alike.
For the past few months, food safety and quality control experts across the globe have been cautioning that the COVID pandemic will be an enormous opportunity for those who engage in this form of cheating to upscale their operations. These warnings have come at a time where many systems responsible for checking, inspecting, auditing and testing supply chains around the world have either been greatly scaled back or totally collapsed. Furthermore, food companies are much more preoccupied with trying to ensure an adequate food supply, rather than confirming their suppliers are all delivering 100 percent genuine and authentic food. We the consumers should first understand how the food manufacturers use fraudulent methods for their economic gains.
What is Food Fraud
Food fraud is the act of purposely altering, misrepresenting, mislabelling, substituting or tampering with any food product at any point along the farm-to-table food supply chain. Fraud can occur in the raw material, in an ingredient, in the final product or in the food’s packaging.
The top ten foods where fraud is mostly done are:
1. Milk – diluted with water, detergent, fat, urea etc.
2. Olive oil – mixed with peanut oil, palm oil and sesame oil.
3. Honey – mixed with beet sugar and sugar syrup.
4. Saffron – mixed with cheaper ingredients.
5. Spices like turmeric adulterated with Metanil yellow. Black pepper with papaya seeds. Chili powder with brick powder.
6. Coffee – mixed with twigs and roasted barley.
7. Khoya & Chhena used in sweets are adulterated with starch. Silver coating used to decorate sweets is made from silver that should be 99.9 % silver. In some cases, it is contaminated with aluminium.
8. Ice-cream with pepperonil, ethylacetate, butyraldehyde, washing powder.
9. Vanilla extract with synthetically produced vanilla.
10. Vegetable Oils and Ghee are adulterated with Argemone oil.
Milk is possibly one of the easiest targets and that’s why you will find hundreds of cases where the food authorities or independent food testing agencies have found milk to be adulterated across India and particularly in UT of J&K.
As per the report published in Economic Times on Sept 5, 2018, 68% milk and milk products in India are not as per FSSAI standard. According to the National dairy development board statistics, milk production in 2018-19 was 187.7 million tonnes and per capita availability was 394 gm/day which was 22% of that year’s global total milk production of 843 million tonnes, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Milk output grew 5% over 2017 levels in India. This growth is expected to sustain in the coming years. NITI Aayog (think-tank of government of India) says India will produce 300 million tonnes of milk by 2022.
In our Union territory of J&K, Food safety department recently conducted a drive to check quality of milk being supplied to consumers in summer capital wherein milk samples were lifted from the market for analysis. Adulteration of milk is big challenge for both regulator as well as the consumer. Here are major adulterants in milk having serious adverse health effect are urea, formalin, detergents, ammonium sulphate, boric acid, caustic soda, benzoic acid, salicylic acid, hydrogen peroxide, sugars and melamine.
Common parameters that are checked to evaluate milk quality are: fat percentage, SNF (Solid-not-Fat) percentage, protein content and freezing point. Adulterants are added in milk to increase these parameters, thereby increasing the milk quality in deceitful way, which in turn promote food safety risk. Starch, Sulfate salts, Urea and Common salts are added to increase solid-not-fat (SNF). Urea, being a natural constituent of raw milk, has a maximum limit imposed by FSS Act 2006 and PFA (Prevention of Food Adulteration) Rules 1955 which should be 70 mg/100 ml.
Commercial urea is added to milk to increase non-protein nitrogen content. Ammonium sulphate is added to increase the lactometer reading by maintaining the density of diluted milk. Formalin, Salicylic acid, Benzoic acid and Hydrogen peroxide act as preservatives and increase the shelf life of the milk. Detergents are added to emulsify and dissolve the oil in water giving a frothy solution, which is the desired characteristics of milk.
Detect Adulteration Rapid Test (DART) booklet launched by FSSAI is a compilation of quick common tests for detection of food adulterants at household level to generate awareness among the consumers.
Detection of water in milk:
• Put a drop of milk on a polished slanting surface.
• Pure milk either stays or flows slowly leaving a white trail behind.
• Milk adulterated with water will flow immediately without leaving a mark
Detection of detergent in milk:
• Take 5 to 10ml of sample with an equal amount of water.
• Shake the contents thoroughly.
• If milk is adulterated with detergent, it forms dense lather.
• Pure milk will form very thin foam layer due to agitation.
Detection of starch in milk and milk products (khoya, chhena, paneer)
• Boil 2-3 ml of milk with 5ml of water.
• Cool and add 2-3 drops of tincture of iodine.
• Formation of blue colour indicates the presence of starch.
As per the chapter IX of Food Safety Standard Act, 2006 concerning Offences and Penalties,
Section 50 deals with Penalty for selling food not of the nature or substance or quality demanded may extend up to Rs 5 lacs.
Section 51 – Penalty for sub-standard food is INR 5 lacs.
Section 52 – Penalty for misbranded food is INR 3 lacs.
Section 53 – Penalty for misleading advertisement is INR 10 lacs.
Section 54 – Penalty for food containing extraneous matter is INR 1 lac.
Section 57 – Penalty for possessing an adulterant either where such adulterant is not injurious to health is INR 2 lacs or if it is injurious to health of consumer is INR 10 lacs.
Despite of the fact that financial gain is considered to be one of the major reasons for milk adulteration, inadequate supply for the increasing population all over the India has motivated companies for indulging in to this unscrupulous practice. This problem is more persistent due to lack of adequate monitoring and law enforcement. This calls for combined efforts from food scientists, food safety specialists, quality analysts and the regulatory bodies through the development, implementation and dissemination of better techniques for the detection of milk and other food adulteration.
Besides this, awareness and access to information can play vital role in urban, sub-urban and rural areas to overcome this issue. At last, I quote Frank Yiannas, “the goal of food safety professional should be to create a food safety culture, not a food safety program.”
—Writer is Currently working as a Food Safety & Quality Assurance Officer for a Bahrain based Food Company holding franchise of Starbucks and COSTA Coffee. firstname.lastname@example.org