food adulteration

Food Adulteration: A Global Threat

What was the last meal that you ate? Was it breakfast, lunch, dinner, or snacks, or are you munching something right now? Do you feel uneasy or bloated right after enjoying your food at your favourite restaurant? Or do you feel the same even if you eat home-cooked food? Well, that could be adulteration in the ingredients that you bought from the grocery store.

Food adulteration, the addition of inferior, harmful, or unnecessary substances to food, is a serious global problem. Motivated by greed, it poses significant risks to human health and undermines consumer trust in the food supply chain.

Food Adulteration: Alarming Statistics

Global food adulteration is a pervasive issue with profound implications for public health and economic stability. Various renowned institutions have compiled statistics and reports that shed light on the severity of the problem.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates a global food adulteration rate of 22%, impacting a staggering 57% of the population. The economic consequences are substantial, with an estimated annual impact ranging from US$10 billion to $40 billion.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), developing countries bear the brunt of this crisis, experiencing adulteration rates as high as 50% in certain regions. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reported a concerning trend in 2021, with 33% of imported food samples being rejected due to adulteration. Lead, arsenic, mercury, pesticides, and undeclared allergens were identified as the top adulterants.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) revealed in its 2022 report that 1.2% of food samples analysed in the European Union were non-compliant with food safety regulations. The main issues included pesticide residues surpassing maximum levels, unauthorised additives, and incorrect labelling.

The International Food Safety Network (INFOSAN) reported a 40% increase in global food safety incidents between 2017 and 2021. Food fraud and adulteration emerged as significant contributors to these incidents, underscoring the magnitude of the challenge on a global scale.

According to the latest annual survey of the food industry, a considerable number of U.S. consumers continue to express substantial apprehensions regarding chemicals in food. Specifically, findings from the International Food Information Council (IFIC) reveal that 29 percent of consumers identified chemicals in food as their foremost food safety concern, surpassing other issues, including bacterial foodborne illness. Notably, everyone surveyed ranked chemicals in food among their top three concerns. This trend has persisted since 2017, consistently occupying the top spot and even tying with the perceived risk from COVID-19 in food last year. 

The survey also disclosed that 69 percent of consumers were unaware that the responsibility for reviewing the safety of low-calorie sweeteners rests with the U.S. government, despite being widely recognised food additives.

Additionally, 54 percent of consumers emphasised the importance of ingredients avoiding "chemical-sounding names," with 26 percent deeming it "very important." Their stance is primarily influenced by concerns related to food safety and healthfulness.

Commonly Adulterated Ingredients

  • Spices: Turmeric with lead chromate, chilli powder with brick powder, saffron with safflower, and paprika with Sudan dyes are common adulterants.
  • Milk and dairy products: Water, starch, urea, and vegetable oil are often added to milk, while ghee can be adulterated with hydrogenated vegetable oils.
  • Honey: Sugar syrup, corn syrup, and antibiotics are common adulterants in honey.
  • Oils: Cheaper oils like palm oil are often mixed with expensive oils like olive oil or sunflower oil.
  • Fruits and vegetables: Artificial colours, ripening agents, and waxes are used to enhance appearance, while pesticides and fungicides are sometimes misused beyond safe limits.

Precautions to Avoid Adulterated Food

  • Buy from reputable sources: Opt for established stores, supermarkets, and brands with a good reputation for quality and safety.
  • Check packaging: Look for tamper-proof seals, expiry dates, and FSSAI certification marks.
  • Be wary of unrealistic prices: If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid suspiciously cheap food items.
  • Read labels carefully: Look for ingredients, additives, and processing methods. Be aware of potential allergens and artificial ingredients.
  • Inspect visually: Look for signs of spoilage, discolouration, or unusual smells.
  • Cook thoroughly: Proper cooking can kill harmful bacteria and reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses.
  • Support local farmers and organic markets: Choose organic options when possible to minimise the risk of pesticides and chemical residues.
  • Report suspected adulteration: If you suspect food adulteration, report it to the relevant authorities immediately.

Next time you're at the grocery store, be a savvy shopper! Instead of grabbing the first product you see, take a moment to scan the ingredient list. By understanding what goes into your food, you can make informed choices that support your health and well-being. Popping a pill for stomach aches or bloating after a meal might seem like a quick fix, but it's often just a band-aid solution. Be proactive and address the root cause by choosing wholesome, unadulterated foods. Remember, knowledge is power, and when it comes to your health, being aware is key! Do you have anything to say on this issue? Please feel free to comment below.

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Komala Rudra

Komala Rudra is a devoted mother and author who explores children's behavior and nutrition, offering valuable insights and practical guidance for parents and caregivers. Her writings aim to nurture healthy habits and stronger connections between parents and their little ones.

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