Sweets are tempting. But, they may be toxic too.
To save you a Diwali of sour sufferings, district administrations in Ranchi and East Singhbhum have decided on random inspection of sweet shops in the capital and the steel city from this week to check harmful chemical adulteration, a common and callous business practice to mint festive money.
Last week, state food controller T.P. Burnwal issued a strict directive, asking all seven food inspectors in charge of 24 districts to collect sweet and ingredient samples for thorough lab tests in the run-up to Diwali so that results could be studied and offenders punished before the festival of lights.
“I have asked inspectors and our food analyst to ensure tests on as many as samples possible to detect any pertinent threat to people. We are trying to conduct random samplings much ahead of Diwali so that shopkeepers think twice before indulging in sale of adulterated sweets. If tests at our Namkum lab show a sample as adulterated but not injurious to health, the shop owner may be let off with a warning.
“However, if the samples are found injurious to health, a hefty fine ranging between Rs 25,000 and Rs 2 lakh will be imposed,” Burnwal told The Telegraph on Monday.
Jamshedpur and its fringes host as many as 150 big and small sweet shops, while there are 120 in and around Ranchi.
East Singhbhum additional chief medical officer (ACMO) Swarn Singh, entrusted to implement the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006 (updated in 2012), said his team — also comprising district food inspector K.P. Singh — would get cracking from November 1.
“We have received complaints about adulterated mithai being sold at some shops in Sidhgora, Bhalubhasa and Golmuri. These areas will be our prime targets,” the ACMO said, adding that during the raids they would primarily collect samples of oil, flour, khoya, paneer, spices and colours being used to prepare sweets.
The food inspector of Ranchi, who holds additional charge of three other districts, said they would focus on Lalpur-Circular Road, Main Road, Kantatoli, Bahu Bazar, Ashok Nagar and a few other areas in the capital. “It may not be possible to cover the entire city. So, we will plan judiciously. Sampling may begin as early as day after tomorrow,” he said.
According to the National Referral Centre for Lead Poisoning Prevention in India, colours are one of the culprits.
A lead-based, carcinogenic dye called metanil yellow is used to give sweets like laddu and some other food items like biryani their inviting colour instead of the permitted tartrazine, which is more expensive. Metanil yellow is cancer-causing and is known to affect the brain and kidneys.
Similarly, muric acid and lead nitrate in paneer or chhana and formalin in milk are toxic and affect the central nervous system. On a lesser scale, Sudan III — a contaminant often used in gulabjamun — can cause skin irritations.
“The tests will confirm whether there are any such harmful chemicals or bacterial contamination in the sweets and other oily Diwali snacks. It will also detect the extent of animal fat mixed in cooking oil,” food inspector K.P. Singh said.
Swarn Singh said he had sought police protection from deputy commissioner Himani Pande so that the sampling drive was not hampered. “We fear some shopkeepers may use their henchmen to disrupt our work. We want police to be on standby to prevent any untoward incident,” he added.
The same district team had carried out raids on fast food stalls and restaurants in Parsudih, Bistupur and Mango during Durga Puja. The test results are awaited. “We expect them by the first week of November. The deputy commissioner will then be approached for action against the culprits,” Singh said.
Have you ever fallen sick after feasting on Diwali sweets?