food adulteration

Food Adulterants and their effect on children’s health!

A 3 yrs old boy is brought to my OPD with history of poor appetite and poor concentration. On examination he was pale, his nails were stained and his IQ was low. Blood tests revealed high lead levels. After treating him with the antidote he gradually normalised but his IQ is still on a lower side. Every 4th kid that comes to my OPD has some sort of allergy, either allergic cough or allergic rash and needs high dose of antiallergic and sometimes steroids.

Food is one of the essentials to sustain life and it is through this food that our children are getting exposed to harmful chemicals which are causing above mentioned symptoms. Access to pure, nutritious food, free from any type of adulteration is what every parents aspires for their children. We work so hard and run after our kids to feed them but we rarely think that the food is full of adulterants and is damaging for our children.


Food adulteration is rampant in India. The reports of adulteration in fast foods, vegetables, fruits, milk, spice and more keeps making news every now and then. The irony is that even with such disastrous complications of food adulteration, the culprits are dealt with very leniently. Most go unpunished.And we are back cooking and serving the same adulterated fresh and processed food.


A report of National survey on Milk adulteration in 2011 concluded that up to 68% milk sold in India was adulterated. Milk was also ‘prepared’ using urea and detergent.


Everything that we eat on daily basis may have found its way into the adulteration market. You thought you were consuming healthy foods? Just check this. Top ten foods that are found adulterated, in a recent survey are- Milk, Honey, Spices, Ice Cream, Food grains, Coffee powder, Ketchup, Tea leaves, Vegetable oil, Sweets.

To beverages you were drinking for good health are not so healthy. Coffee adulterated with powdered date seeds, tamarind seeds can cause anything from gastric upset to cancer. Milk the only source of nutrition in infants and growing children can contain anything from hormones like prolactin given to buffaloes for increasing yield, to boric powder or hydrogen peroxide as direct adulterants, pesticides, antibiotics, formalin, urea. A report of National survey on Milk adulteration in 2011 concluded that up to 68% milk sold in India was adulterated. Milk was also ‘prepared’ using urea and detergent. Neither of these substances are meant for human or animal ingestion. Bottled drinking water containing arsenic and juices containing pesticide residues are not what u expect when you bought them. But that is there reality.


Fruits too are not spared here, they are artificially ripened using Calcium Carbide which is purely carcinogenic. How to detect? If the stem of bananas appear green and mangoes appear uniformly yellow think it must be artificially ripened. Apples can have a coating of wax to make them more attractive. Scratch n see.


In last 12 years of my practice I have been seeing a rising incidence of allergies , recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms like pain abdomen, vomiting, constipation, neurological complications.


Chilli powder may be mixed with brick powder resulting in GI upset, loss of vision. How to detect? Put 1tsp of chilli powder in a little water, brick powder will settle, chilli powder will float.

Green vegetables like peas may be made to look greener by using malachite green. It is carcinogenic if eaten for long periods. Not only these, even a commodity we use daily, Turmeric, adulterated with metanil yellow which is carcinogenic. It can be detected using a simple test- Mix ½ tsp of turmeric in a small cup of lukewarm water and add a few drops of lemon juice, solution will turn blue or purple.

These are only food adulterants we talk about. If we talk about the various chemical fertilisers and pesticides in our food some of us may completely stop eating…..

In last 12 years of my practice I have been seeing a rising incidence of allergies , recurrent gastrointestinal symptoms like pain abdomen, vomiting, constipation, neurological complications. These symptoms effect all socio economic strata and are there in innocent infants who just are on milk. It is difficult to test all children as the testing for adulterants is not easily available. Only heavy metal poisonings like arsenic or lead can be detected in blood tests.
The best way to avoid these health problems is prevention.


We should also create awareness in the local community on the ill effects of food adulteration so that when it happens the public knows when to seek help.


There are many steps we can take to ensure this. We can begin by taking interest in the place from where we buy our food ingredients, for example, is it from a reputed shop or retailer, we need to check out. We also need to check if these outlets are regularly checked by food inspectors and if the premises are kept clean with no infestations. We need to check if the packaging is intact, as also the expiry date and the source of the product. It is also necessary to talk regularly to the local community to check if people are falling sick after eating in a particular restaurant or food ingredients bought from a particular retailer. We should also create awareness in the local community on the ill effects of food adulteration so that when it happens the public knows when to seek help.

We need to remember that contamination could happen in very small amounts over a period of time and it might be impossible to detect or too late to intervene. So it is prudent that every one of us takes special interest in this subject and educate our families, friends and colleagues about this menace.

Comments (1)

Pooja Kaul Posted on Oct 09, 2017

this is such a great article :)thanks charu :)))

  Reply   View Reply

Dr.Amita Kaul

Dr Amita Kaul MBBS DNB Pediatrics, Associate Chief pediatric and neonatal intensive care services , surya mother and child super specialty hospital , Pune

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