FSSAI’s helpful manual doles out tips to conduct tests at home

It is common knowledge and any newspaper/Google search will tell you that adulteration in commonly consumed foods like milk, spices, sugar and others, is a huge health hazard. Even vegetables and fruit need to be thoroughly checked to see if chemicals have been used in speeding up their ripening and /or to enhance colour and looks, for lurking pesticide residue, or if they have been genetically modified (GM) for commercial purposes. Cooking oils are easy to adulterate and savings therein are huge. The use of calcium carbide and copper sulphate to make fruit ripen faster is equally common.

Food adulteration or food fraud can trigger toxicity in the body that can result in poor immunityparalysis anmight even prove fatal. Some adulterants can directly affect the body leading to heart failure, liver disorders, kidney disorders and many more. From time to time, governments have taken steps to tighten laws to book offenders. 

According to a report in, in 1785 the first law was made to protect food quality in Massachusetts. After that, various other places started enacting food laws. In 1906, President Theodore Roosevelt passed the original Food and Drugs Act in California. In India, the issue of food adulteration has been concern for over six decades. In 1954, the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act was passed and was brought into force in 1955. Early this year, Maharashtra government was mulling to initiate legislation to make life imprisonment as maximum punishment for food adulteration. State minister for food and drug administration Girish Bapat observed that cases of food adulteration and spurious chemical products had increased drastically in the last three years. While laws exist to prevent food adulteration, preventing adulteration is not always easy.

Times of India report mentions a recent study by the Pollution Monitoring Laboratorcommissioned by the Centre for Science and Environment to understand whether GM foods are available in the Indian market. It tested 65 imported and domestically produced samples, and found that 32 percent of the food samples were GM positive and 46 percent of imported products were also GM positive.

To help consumers, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), an autonomous body under the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, has released a booklet of simple home tests to check the quality of daily use food products.

FSSAI routinely carries out sampling of food to get them tested in notified laboratories across the country. These tests require very sophisticated instruments and highly trained personnel to carry out the procedures. However, the manual mentions that there are some common adulterants that can be easily tested at home. The manual describes some of tests that can be easily carried out at home in the following categories:

▪ Milk and Milk Products
▪ Oils and Fats
▪ Sugars and Confectionery
▪ Food Grains and its Products
▪ Spices and Condiments
▪ Miscellaneous

The tests are lucidly described with photographs showing real visual results. 

Addition of water and urea to milk, paper pulp to lassi and starch powder to curd  or substitution of milk solids (removal) from the natural product and blending them with low priced adulterants is common. Under milk and milk products, four tests have been described. These pertain to the detection of the following:

▪ Water in milk.
▪ Detergent in milk.
▪ Starch in milk and milk products (khoyachenna, and paneer).
▪ Mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and other starches in ghee/butter.

For instance, if milk has detergent, a simple test with water shall form a dense lather. If milk has water, a drop of milk will slide down fast on an obliquely kept polished surface. 

For coconut oil testing, Test 5 of the manual says that when refrigerated the coconut oil solidifies at the bottom while other oils present in it remain visible as a separate layer.

To check honey, if honey disperses in water, it indicates presence of sugar in it.

To check ergots in foodgrainsthe grains can be put in a salt solution. Ergots will float on top. Test 13 mentions that artificially coloured food grains can be checked in water. The added colour will be reflected in the coloured water. 

Under Spices and Condiments category, 12 tests have been described, which pertain to the detection of the following:

▪ Foreign resin in asafoetida (Hing).
▪ Soapstone or other earthy matter in asafoetida (Hing).
▪ Papaya seeds in black pepper.
▪ Artificial/water-soluble synthetic colours in chili powder.
▪ Cassia bark in cinnamon.
▪ Grass seeds colored with charcoal dust in cumin seeds.
▪ Argemone seeds in mustard seeds.
▪ Lead chromate in the whole turmeric.
▪ Artificial color in turmeric powder.
▪ Sawdust and powdered bran in powdered spices.
▪ Extraneous matter (dust, pebble, stone, straw, weed seeds, damaged grain, weeviled grain, insects, rodent hair and excreta) in whole spices.
▪ Fennel seeds in cumin seeds.

In the Miscellaneous category, thirteen tests pertain to the detection of the following:

▪ Malachite green in green chili and green vegetables.
▪ The artificial color on green peas.
▪ Colored dried tendrils of maize cob in saffron.
▪ Powder in iodized salt.
▪ Clay in coffee powder.
▪ Colour in supari pan masala.
▪ Exhausted tea in tea leaves.
▪ Iron filings in tea leaves.
▪ Chakunda beans in pulses.
▪ Rhodamine B in sweet potato.
▪ Wax polishing on apple.
▪ Chicory powder in coffee powder.

The FSSAI manual has been compiled by experts at FSSAI as well as scientists from ITC Life Sciences and Technology Centre, Bengaluru. The manual is accompanied by a Feedback Form at the end. 

For details of each test, you may download the full PDF:

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