World Food Safety Day 2024: How to identify adulterated food items

Consuming adulterated food can lead to mild to severe health problems. On World Food Safety Day, we tell you how to identify adulterated food items.
Beware of colour or food adulteration. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock
Natalia Ningthoujam Published: 6 Jun 2024, 12:00 pm IST
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When a food item’s quality is reduced, it is called food adulteration. Either harmful substances are added or high-quality ingredients are replaced with cheaper alternatives. When consumed, these adulterants can cause illnesses. Be it spices or milk, adulterants are put in almost every food item. If a manufacturer puts more water than the milk, you will be able to tell that the dairy product is adulterated. There are more ways to identify adulterated food items. On World Food Safety Day, observed on June 7, we tell you how to detect adulterated foods.

What is food adulteration?

Food adulteration refers to the process of lowering the quality of food by either adding inferior substances or removing vital elements, which can make the food harmful to consume, says nutritionist Abhilasha V. It is usually done to increase profit margins or extend the shelf life of food products.

Honey and milk are often adulterated by sellers. Image courtesy: Pexels

Here are some key points about food adulteration:

  • Adding harmful or non-food substances to food items, such as adding water to milk, starch to butter, or artificial colours to enhance appearance.
  • Replacing high-quality ingredients with cheaper alternatives, like mixing inferior grains with high-quality grains.
  • Deliberately including contaminants like chalk powder in flour, or sand and stones in pulses to increase weight.

Food adulteration and health

Food adulteration poses significant health risks, which can range from minor health issues to severe illnesses. Diarrhea, cardiovascular disease, allergic reaction, nausea, and diabetes, are frequently observed illnesses in people who consumed adulterated food, as per a research published in the Foods journal in 2023.

People may experience food poisoning, and gastrointestinal disorders too. Removing essential nutrients from food or replacing them with non-nutritive substances can also lead to deficiencies and malnutrition, says the expert.

What are the ways to identify adulterated food items at home?

Here are some simple methods to identify adulterated food items at home:

1. Milk

Put a drop of milk on a polished surface. If it flows down without leaving a trail, it means there is water in your milk. Shake the milk vigorously, and if it forms a dense lather, it may contain detergent.

2. Honey

Add a few drops of honey to a glass of water to check its purity. Pure honey will settle at the bottom, while honey with sugar syrup or other adulterants will dissolve, says the expert.

3. Spices like turmeric and chilli powder

Mix a teaspoon of turmeric powder in a glass of warm water. Pure turmeric will settle at the bottom, leaving clear water. If it turns the water cloudy, it may contain adulterants. In case of chilli powder, put a small amount of the item in water. Artificial colour will leave a red streak, while pure chilli powder will settle without streaking.

4. Tea and coffee

Spread a small quantity of tea leaves on wet blotting paper. If a yellow or orange stain appears, it indicates the presence of artificial colour. Put a little bit of coffee powder in water. Pure coffee will float while adulterants will settle down.

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Tea may have artificial colours. Image courtesy: Adobe Stock

5. Vegetables

Rub the surface of the vegetables, especially the green leafy ones, with a cotton ball soaked in water or vegetable oil. If the cotton gets coloured, it means artificial dyes are present in them.

6. Fruits

Let’s tell you how to check adulteration on a banana! Put a few drops of water on the banana. If it turns brown where the water was poured, it indicates the presence of artificial ripening agents like calcium carbide, says Abhilasha.

7. Wheat

Dissolve a tablespoon of wheat flour in water to check if it is mixed with other substances. Pure flour will settle at the bottom, but if the water turns cloudy or contains residue, it indicates food adulteration.

8. Meat

Be it chicken or pork, press it. If it feels excessively firm or rubbery, it may contain fillers. Also, pure meat should have a natural colour without any bright red or pink patches, which are signs of food adulteration.

9. Oils and fats

Refrigerate a small amount of coconut oil. Pure coconut oil solidifies, while adulterated oil remains liquid. To check other oils, pour a few drops of the oil on your palm and rub it. Pure oil will be absorbed quickly, says the expert.

10. Butter

Melt a small amount of butter in a spoon. Pure butter will melt quickly and turn brown whereas adulterated butter will take longer to melt, and may also leave white residue.

These home tests are simple and can help detect common adulterants in food items. Also, make sure to buy food products from sources that are certified.

Natalia Ningthoujam

Natalia Ningthoujam has written on various subjects - from music to films and fashion to lifestyle - as a journalist in her career that started in 2010. After getting stories from the crime scene, police headquarters, and conducting interviews with celebrities, she is now writing on health and wellness which has become her focus area. ...Read More

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