A universal human health menace

Diminishing the quality of food for petty material gains is a socio-economic problem
A universal human health menace
"Presently, adulteration of dairy products is of major concern as around 80% of milk is found to be adulterated in India with many detrimental chemicals." [Representational Image] Pxfuel [Creative Commons]


A wide variety of foods exist around the world, which fit in the food pyramid and so are fit for human consumption. It is fateful to state that one third of the total harvested food is spoiled and lost before use. In today’s world every conscious consumer is aware about the health and demands the food that is safe, nourishing, and hygienic.

Food adulteration is defined as the process in which the value of food is decreased either by the addition of inferior quality material or by extraction of valuable ingredient.

The standard norms of FSSAI (2012), while commenting on adulteration of food, define it as the addition or subtraction of any substance to or from food, so that the natural composition and quality of food substance is affected.

The food should be free from any poisonous substance that is injurious to human health.

Diminishing the quality of food for petty material gains is a socioeconomic 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. Presently, adulteration of dairy products is of major concern as around 80% of milk is found to be adulterated in India with many detrimental chemicals.

While the adulteration levels in country side may vary from 8-13%, but it is alarming to mention that in urban India the adulteration levels are staggering at 60-68%, a big reason to worry.

Diminishing the quality of food not only amounts to a substantial economic problem, but also may lead to severe health issues for consumers. Adulteration of consumable items is widely prevalent in many third world countries.

Consumable items are adulterated intentionally or get adulterated accidentally. Intentional food adulteration is generally done for monetary gains. In this perspective, strict laws must be framed and implemented globally to punish the offenders who are deliberately doing this malpractice and playing with the health of people.

Food adulteration is a major threat, which is recurrently faced by everyone. Therefore, detection of adulteration in food is an essential requirement for ensuring the safety of foods consumed by humans worldwide. The 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 by economically underdeveloped nations to detect commonly used adulterants in different forms of foods for the safety of consumers.

It is unfortunate that hawkers and businessmen deceive the consumers by selling adulterated food that is detrimental to human wellbeing. Raw vegetables and fruits are commonly adulterated with malachite green, wax, oxytocin, copper sulphate, saccharin, and calcium carbide.

The milk in India is found adulterated with water, urea, detergent, and fat; khoya is adulterated with blotting paper; refined oil and skimmed milk powder, and black pepper is adulterated with papaya seeds.

One study in India conducted in 2006 revealed that 64% of alcohol samples tested found positive for methanol content. It is pertinent to mention that consumption of 30 milliliter of methanol can be fatal.

Several causes of adulteration in consumable foods include tainted morals of the society, demand and supply gap, perishable nature of consumable products, little purchasing power of the customer, spoiled socioeconomic structure, unorganised condition of dairy industry and other food processing units, lack of strict and effective regulatory system, shortage of appropriate, rapid and definite tests.

FSSAI, 2012, classifies adulterants into three types, namely intentional, incidental and metallic .

Intentional adulterants: A number of adulterants that are intentionally added in foods include water, sand, stones, chalk powder, marble chips, talc to name a few.

Incidental adulterants: Droppings of rodents, larvae in foods, and pesticides residue are accidently found in foods.

Metallic contaminants: Lead, arsenic, effluent from chemical industries etc. can contaminate the food.

The consumption of the adulterants in various foods is detrimental to human health. Some of the adulterants can result in life threatening diseases, especially in elderly, children, pregnant women, and immunocompromised.

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 mentioned that 57 % of people (32% children and 25% adult) 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 problem, 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, eye sight problem, skin disorders etc.

The polluted water acts as vehicle for pathogens that cause diseases in susceptible persons. It is reported that unhygienic water is most commonly added in the milk, and ingestion of water adulterated milk can result in many diseases of multiple etiologies that include viruses, bacteria, protozoa, and helminthes. Some of the 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, India (A central university)

Dr. Sajood Maqbool Bhat works with Dept. of Chemistry, Govt. S.G.S, and P.G (Auton.) College, Sidhi, M.P, India.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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