Adulteration in Food

Categories: FoodHealth

Adulteration in food is normally present in its most crude form; prohibited substances are either added or partly or wholly substituted. Normally the contamination/adulteration in food is done either for financial gain or due to carelessness and lack in proper hygienic condition of processing, storing, transportation and marketing. This ultimately results that the consumer is either cheated or often become victim of diseases. Such types of adulteration are quite common in developing countries or backward countries. It is equally important for the consumer to know the common adulterants and their effect on health.

The increasing number of food producers and the outstanding amount of import foodstuffs enables the producers to mislead and cheat consumers.

To differentiate those who take advantage of legal rules from the ones who commit food adulteration is very difficult. The consciousness of consumers would be crucial. Ignorance and unfair market behavior may endanger consumer health and misleading can lead to poisoning. So we need simple screening tests for their detection.

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In the past few decades, adulteration of food has become one of the serious problems. Consumption of adulterated food causes serious diseases like cancer, diarrhoea, asthma, ulcers, etc.

Majority of fats, oils and butter are paraffin wax, castor oil and hydrocarbons. Red chilli powder is mixed with brick powder and pepper is mixed with dried papaya seeds. These adulterants can be easily identified by simple chemical tests. Several agencies have been set up by the Government of India to remove adulterants from food stuffs. AGMARK – acronym for agricultural marketing….

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this organization certifies food products for their quality. Its objective is to promote the Grading and Standardization of agricultural and allied commodities.

Health care systems at Central, State, district or municipal levels have to implement various types of health programmes. But of these, the one which is most complicated, disappointing and frustrating is related to the prevention of food adulteration. For other types of health programmes, the manager has periods of satisfaction followed by periods of worry and concern; but, for those responsible for implementing prevention of food adulteration programme in a conscientious manner, it is nothing but continued agony. Any health care personnel responsible for administering this programme either at the administrative or at the operational level will have the same opinion. What is food adulteration?

Food adulteration is the act of intentionally debasing the quality of food offered for sale either by the admixture or substitution of inferior substances or by the removal of some valuable ingredient. Food is declared adulterated if: * a substance is added which depreciates or injuriously affects it * cheaper or inferior substances are substituted wholly or in part * any valuable or necessary constituent has been wholly or in part abstracted * it is an imitation

* it is colored or otherwise treated, to improve its appearance or if it contains any added substance injurious to health It is undoubtedly a social evil which can be regarded as the outcome of an interaction between a number of social, economic, technical and human behavioral factors. It is a manifestation of a sick society and can be regarded as a crime similar to other crimes like theft, burglary or murder. Like any other crime, food adulteration is expected to continue in our society as long as the existing factors which generate crime will continue. The question of eradication of food adulteration is an impossible task.

Ugly Face of Food Adulteration


Food adulteration is common in almost all developing countries. But its ugly face is not the same everywhere. In a developing country which is at the lowest rung of the development ladder, food adulteration consists of relatively simple measures, the best examples of which are the addition of water to milk, mixing inferior quality of food to more expensive varieties and the use of non-permitted and harmful colours in the preparation of homemade processed foods for sale. On the other hand, in countries which have a developed food industry sector, food adulteration has a broad spectrum starting from simple procedures to most complicated technological procedures needing high level technical competence.

It is obvious that in such food adulteration, technical expertise of very high order is utilized by the adulterator in performing such type of crime. India unfortunately comes in the latter category. Starting from the simple procedure of adding water to milk or selling diluted buffalo milk as cow’s milk or using skimmed milk powder for making high quality milk, the adulteration process goes to the other extreme of utilizing non-permitted food additives in making processed package foods or making perfect imitations of well known brands of food which can sometimes escape the most careful scrutiny of the food inspectorate.

Why Food Adulteration?

Let us be clear that food adulteration in India under the law includes both willful adulteration of food and “substandard” foods which do not conform to the prescribed food standards but are not done intentionally. Taking an overall view of all types of food adulteration, three major underlying causes could be identified: * Inadequate availability of food to meet the demands of the consumer prompting the unscrupulous food traders to use any means to stretch the supply to earn more money. *


The more important reason is the basic dishonesty of the food traders and an urge to make quick and easy money. In fact, this urge to make money in an unscrupulous manner is possibly the basic reason for the majority of crimes committed in the modern day society, be it theft, burglary, bank looting or murder. This dishonesty to earn easy and quick money is not only restricted to the food traders who commit crime of food adulteration but can also apply with equal force to the law enforcer who might make an alliance with the food trader with most disastrous results.

* There are significant numbers of cases of food adulteration committed by small traders due to their ignorance about the standards they are expected to maintain. It is true that all food standards after they are developed are circulated by government notification for the knowledge of all traders; but it is equally true that there is an abysmal gap between the traders and the law enforcers, especially when they are small and medium traders e.g. the street corner food sellers.

How Prevalent is Food Adulteration?

This is a question which is being posed for the last few decades with no clear cut answer. The statement issued from the government authorities on the basis of samples checked and the number prosecuted indicates that about 14 to 15 per cent of samples lifted are found to be adulterated. This is the most undependable and unrealistic estimate of the prevalence of this crime. Such data from the government reports can be regarded as the most distorted statistics since these are based on the samples lifted which is obviously a terribly biased sample based on the whims, likings, opportunities and the convenience of the food inspectorate.

Anyone having a little knowledge of statistics would immediately come to the conclusion that this is the most undependable estimate of prevalence of food adulteration in the country. On the other extreme are the views of the consumer that almost all foods in the country are adulterated by the unscrupulous food traders. It is obvious that the real answer lies in-between the two extremes.

Need for a Realistic Study

It is felt that there is an urgent need for an impartial scientific study to determine the prevalence of food adulteration in the country. Such study should not be undertaken by an interested party, the consumers or the law enforcers, but should be undertaken by a research institution in a properly designed and controlled manner. The National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and the Indian Council of Medical Research are ideally suited to undertake such a study in various parts of India in order to find out the extent of food adulteration, the types of foods which are commonly adulterated, the types of adulteration adopted, the common adulterants used, the health hazards of such type of adulteration and lastly, to explore as far as possible the motives for such adulteration.

In other words, such a study will generate for the first time data on the basis of which one can develop an “anatomy of food adulteration” and possibly, get an idea of the “profiles of the food adulterators” and the reasons for such adulteration. The results of such a study will be an eye opener for the consumers, law enforcers and also for those who are brooding for decades as to the reasons of food adulteration and how to prevent this menace.

Food Standards

Prevention of food adulteration goes very closely with the establishment of food standards. The Central Committee of Food Standards, a statutory body in the Directorate-General of Health Services, Government of India, is responsible for laying down realistic standards. However, one should realize that the standards should be such which are enforceable and which are realistic. For instance, laying down a standard like “carbide should not be used for ripening of fruits” is only a wishful thinking because the rules do not prescribe how the standard can be enforced. A standard which is not enforceable is not a standard at all. Secondly, a standard must be realistic. The present standard that not a grain of Khesari Dal should be present in any other sample of cereals or grams is not realistic since in is not practicable in the present agricultural practices.

Even if 3 per cent of Khesari Dal is present as “foreign body”, which is permissible under the Rules, it is certainly not injurious for health. It does not mean pleading for the particular admixture of Khesari Dal with cereals. But it is being pointed out that the standard should consider the agriculture and other practices in the country and make those which are realistic. Similarly, the PFA Act and Rules should be reviewed in-depth. At the present moment, the rules are designed to catch the criminal after the crime has been committed. More attention should be given to know how to prevent this crime. In other countries, such programme is known as food safety or food control, which is more realistic than the prevention of food adulteration.

How to Prevent Food Adulteration?

Can this menace be eradicated? Like any other crime, food adulteration would continue. However, everyone will wish that this menace, like any other crime, be controlled significantly. In India, there are two extreme views which are in circulation. According to one view, we have to coexist with this crime for years to come but with suitable measures it could be brought down to a low level. The sense of co-existence with this crime has possibly emerged from a sense of frustration as over the decades we have witnessed the continuation of food adulteration without signs of abatement in spite of numerous measures taken by the government. The second view is that, with severe deterrent punishment and a strict enforcement of the legal measures, food adulteration could be eradicated almost to a stage of non-existence.

It is difficult to say which the real answer is. At the moment, one could identify three different views coming from three different angles – from the enforcers of the control measures, the consumers and the traders – the three partners in the prevention of food adulteration. The enforcers which mean the government, municipal bodies and all others responsible directly or indirectly with the control of food adulteration will opine that the control of this menace needs a number of measures; only legal enforcement will not be enough.

The basic requirements are providing adequate food supply at a reasonable price, setting up of realistic food standards which are enforceable and which can be attained by majority of the traders (not only the big food industries but the common agricultural producers, traders and the medium and petty food processor), the minimum basic honesty on the part of the traders and the law enforcers, a band of committed inspectorate staff and of course, a harsh deterrent punishment for those who commit this crime.

It has been mentioned for decades that if deterrent punishment is prescribed for food adulteration, this crime will disappear. A famous statement in the past was “Hang them on the nearest lamp post and adulteration will disappear” But this alone will not work. There is now a provision under the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act and Rules those in extreme cases, life imprisonment could be awarded to those who commit food adulteration which is extremely injurious for health. Though this provision exists, so far not one person has been given this sentence.

Lessons Learnt

What lessons have we learnt in the implementation of a programme for food adulteration? India has the experience of running this programme for almost 30 years. Even now, we are not clear at all about the main facets of food adulteration. For example, it is extremely important to get some information about the prosecutions being made in the States and the municipal bodies during the last five years in order to answer certain questions like A. the percentage of prosecution launched against the big traders versus small and medium traders B. Percentage of prosecutions launched for dangerous adulterations versus innocuous adulteration.

C. Percentage of prosecutions launched for complex types of adulteration versus simple adulteration. D. Percentage of prosecutions launched against institutional adulteration versus “unintentional adulteration”. This would throw considerable light on the motives of adulteration, the extent of adulteration, the gravity of adulteration, the mode of adulteration and the effectiveness of sampling adopted by the inspectorate. The lifting of sample is an area which needs considerable improvement and every one responsible for the enforcement of food adulteration would agree on this point. At the present moment, this is entirely on the discretion of the food inspectors which certainly could be much more rationalized and made more realistic.

Result: Common adulterants present in ghee and oil are paraffin wax, hydrocarbons, dyes and argemone oil. Sugar is usually contaminated with washing soda and other insoluble substances. Common adulterants present in chilli powder, turmeric powder and pepper are red colored lead salts, yellow lead salts and dried papaya seeds respectively.

Selection of wholesome and non-adulterated food is essential for daily life to make sure that such foods do not cause any health hazard. It is not possible to ensure wholesome food only on visual examination when the toxic contaminants are present in ppm level. However, visual examination of the food before purchase makes sure to ensure absence of insects, visual fungus, foreign matters, etc. Therefore, due care taken by the consumer at the time of purchase of food after thoroughly examining can be of great help.

Secondly, label declaration on packed food is very important for knowing the ingredients and nutritional value. It also helps in checking the freshness of the food and the period of best before use. The consumer should avoid taking food from an unhygienic place and food being prepared under unhygienic conditions. Such types of food may cause various diseases. Consumption of cut fruits being sold in unhygienic conditions should be avoided. It is always better to buy certified food from reputed shop.



Cite this page

Adulteration in Food. (2016, Sep 29). Retrieved from

Adulteration in Food

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