New Delhi, Feb. 20: Government scientists have released to industry a portable instrument that they say can detect within 45 seconds some of the commonest contaminants used to adulterate milk in the country.
Developed at the Central Electronics Engineering Research Institute in Pilani, Rajasthan, the instrument automatically scans milk samples for detergent, urea, soap, soda and salt without the need to employ technicians.
Milk samples are now routinely tested through a range of commercial instruments that typically cost Rs 4.5 lakh and require technicians with chemistry skills to assess milk quality. The CEERI scanner costs Rs 1 lakh and can detect the contaminants at a cost of less than Re 1 per sample.
The Niti Aayog had set Indian scientists a challenge: to develop a way of detecting adulteration in milk within three minutes at a cost of less than Rs 4 per sample.
"Our instrument fits those requirements," said Poonam Chand Panchariya, the senior principal scientist at the CEERI who led the research.
The new instrument will allow samples to be screened during procurement at milk collection points, said Girish Sahni, director-general of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the agency that supports CEERI and 38 other laboratories.
A snapshot survey by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India in 2011-12 had found that 1,225 (65 per cent) of 1,890 samples of milk from across the country were contaminated.
A third of the samples had detergents with other substances. "Urea, detergents, soda, and salt are commonly added to increase the solid non-fat content of milk," Panchariya said.
The researchers worked with a Jaipur-based company to commercialise the instrument. About 40 scanners are being used at milk collection centres in Gujarat, Goa, Punjab and Rajasthan, and scientists are hoping that more dairies will take up the instrument.
"Given the scale at which we need to test milk in India, this is the best solution we have," science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan told a news conference today.
India is the world's largest milk producer and generated about 146 million tonnes during 2014-15.
Harsh Vardhan also announced that the Central Food Technology Research Institute, Mysore, had developed a portable instrument to detect a key micro-nutrient called beta carotene in milk.
Expected to cost Rs 5,000, the instrument will allow farmers to alter the fodder they provide to cattle to increase the beta carotene content of milk.
"Increasing the amount of green fodder can raise beta carotene in the milk," said Arun Kumar, a CFTRI scientist.
Beta carotene, however, tends to get degraded by the heat during the pasteurisation process. "We're independently trying to develop a cold pasteurisation process," said Ananth Ramakrishnan, another CFTRI scientist.