Ever bought carrots that look unnaturally red, and apples that shine unusually bright? Your hunch is right: there is indeed something suspicious behind the sheen.
Even as widespread adulteration of milk in Satara, Sangli, Ahmednagar and Pune districts are in the spotlight, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and city-based consumer body Grahak Peth point at rampant malpractices that ensure that fruits and vegetables you buy look shinier, brighter and more colourful, but at the cost of your health.
“To get bananas and mangoes ripen fast, they are exposed to carbide that generates ethylene gas which gives out heat that in turn helps the fruit ripen fast,” said Suryakant Pathak, president of Grahak Peth.
The tricks are varied and many: green vegetables like bitter gourd (karela) and lady’s fingers (bhendi) are dipped in copper sulphate water to make them look greener. Similarly, brinjals are coated with oil (edible or otherwise) that makes them shine; apples lightly touched with wax to make their coat look impressive; carrots dipped in red-water and watermelons injected with gulal to make them red from inside.
It’s not just restricted to vegetables and fruits. Adulteration hasn’t spared spices and beverage-rack on your kitchen shelf either. According to an FDA food inspector, who did not wish to be identified, mixing turmeric with a yellow metallic powder is a common practise, so is mixing honey with sugar solution.
Pathak said tamarind seed powder is mixed in coffee and used tea leaves are recycled’ with fresh tea powder.
“Similarly, chilli powder is mixed with salt and talcum powder, and mixing ghee and butter with vanaspati is an old trick. Sweets and ice-creams have permitted edible colours only up to a quantity of 100 ppm. But that standard is not met; take a look at some of the sweets like jalebis and boondi–they are unnaturally yellow,” the food inspector said.
In case you are a regular hotel-goer, watch out for the tasty fried besan fafdas placed as appetisers before you. “We strongly suspect that the dough contains washing powder,” said the food inspector.
“It is not possible for the common man to fight adulteration alone–the government machinery needs to be strengthened, and action against those involved in malpractices ought to be swift and stringent. Only then will all this stop. It is a slow poison and the effects on our health will be long term,” said Pathak.
Pathak also took a dig at farmers who use fertilizers on a large scale. “Not only is this detrimental to our health, but the practice will eventually render the soil infertile.” Pathak said that though adulteration is rampant, very few complain. “If a hundred people have faced a problem, possibly one would complain. The common man does not believe he has the time, energy or wherewithal to fight the system,” he said.