Amidst the gloom of Coronavirus and the fear of contracting it, our favourite season of festivals has arrived. This is the season of cheer and indulge in eating food that we otherwise tend to avoid throughout the year. Be it sweets, fried snacks or oil-laden spicy lunch or dinner items, it marks its way onto our plates without any guilt. However, one of the concerns that will continue to linger in our minds despite taking precautionary measures about cooking and eating healthy yet delicious delicacies is food adulteration. While we have embarked our journey of eating healthy and balanced nutritious diet, most of our daily food we consume may result in causing harmful effects to our health leading to brain damage, infertility or cancer, due to usage of adulterated components.
The Food Safety Index
Earlier this year, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) announced the latest results of the country’s Food Safety Index according to the states. Gujarat has been named the top-ranking states among larger states, followed by Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra in terms of food safety. The authority while highlighting and interpreting the positive results also cited that we still must be cautious of the food items we consume for our overall health and wellness.
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The Coronavirus pandemic has reiterated the fact that hygiene is key for a healthy lifestyle and that we should wash carefully and use products. Keeping this mind, let us look into the food items that we need to be careful about:
Edible Oil: When mineral oil is added to edible oil, it poses threat and risk of cancer.
Ground Spices & Processed Food: India, being a rich source of natural spices, gets them exported globally. Business dealers, in order to take advantage and earn more profit, often add artificial colours or mix cheaper substances to the original products. Often, pepper seeds are replaced by papaya seeds, asafoetida is adulterated with soapstone, and chilli powder with brick powder. Turmeric and other ground spices are known to have lead chromate that can cause brain damage, paralysis, anaemia, and abortions/miscarriages. Lead when added to processed food or water can lead to insomnia, poisoning, constipation, foot drop, constipation, and mental retardation.
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Non-permitted Food Colours: If you use food colours, be cautious while buying any non-permitted food colours like metanil yellow. If these colours are used beyond the safe limit, it can cause allergies, infertility and birth defects, hyperactivity, anaemia, liver damage, and cancer.
Milk: Probably one of the most regular and essential items in our kitchen, milk is considered to be adulterated with water, detergent, chalk powder, or even urea. Such adulterated food item can cause severe stomach disorders.
Wheat, pulses and other grains: Ergot, a poisonous fungus which is known to be extremely injurious to health is used to adulterate wheat and other food grains.
Vegetables: Often sold as “fresh in the market”, the shining, polished vegetables catch our attention easily. But we must be aware of their unusual freshness. A chemical dye called Malachite green, which is carcinogenic in nature, is used to provide shine to fruits and vegetables. In some other cases, wax is also used for adulteration owing to its availability and cheaper cost.
Honey: Honey is costly and is commonly adulterated with molasses sugar. This helps in increasing the quantity of the honey in the bottle.
The Sweet Truth
No festival in India is complete without the quintessential spread of sweets. It is offered during prayers and pujas to God, eaten as a token of good omen at every occasion and is a common “food gift” whenever we visit anyone’s house. But were you aware that these sweets also have a defined shelf life similar to packaged and processed foods and that the harsh reality is that sweets sold beyond their shelf life can be harmful for our health?
Recently, FSSAI, India’s food regulator has announced that every sweet shop owner must display the date of manufacturing, “best before” or “use by date” for every sweet starting October 01, 2020. This initiative is to help every consumer to ensure that they are purchasing only fresh products. The decision has been taken keeping in mind the various kinds of complaints that consumers raise regarding the quality of the sweets that are available during the festive season.
The shelf life of sweets typically depends on the ingredients used. For example, sweets made of milk products should be stored in the refrigerator properly and must be consumed within a couple of days. Sweets made with khoya must be consumed within four days and those made with ghee and dry fruits can be stored up to seven days. One must also be careful about the ingredients used for making sweets since there are reports that instead of silver foil to garnish sweets, many sweetshops use silver vark made of aluminium that are bad for health. Therefore, while you must not restrict yourself from enjoying those traditional sweets, make sure they are not past their shelf life.
Read Food Labels
One of the cautious steps that you must take towards safe and healthy eating is to read food labels that comes on the back of every food package you buy. These food labels consist of detailed information on the ingredients used, dietary and nutrient components such as cholesterol, total fat, vitamin and carbohydrates present in the food. This helps in making an informed and healthier choice about what you should consume, whether in moderation or find an alternative and components you may have intolerance towards. Food labels give healthier insights on the food that you buy and consume, help you understand and track the calories per serving, how to store safely and time by which you should finish cooking or eating the food. This habit will also help you manage food wastage, stay away from food induced health problems.
There are many other ways to keep ourselves safe from eating adulterated food and taking a step towards eating healthy. It is important to wash and clean vegetables and fruits before cooking and eating, buy fresh and cook without storing them for too long. Beware of the ingredients used while buying processed foods for cooking and in ready-to-eat packages. Start a kitchen or terrace garden to grow organic and pesticide-free local produce. And, it is helpful to make an informed and cautious decision while planning your diet and menu.
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