Adulteration of Food, Types and its Impact on Health and Detection Methods

Food fraud, food crime, food counterfeiting or food adulteration, these words are recognized since the last century which has made a great impact on public health.

Define Adulteration of Food.

Adulteration of food can be defined as intentionally or unintentionally substitution, addition or misrepresentation of useless and harmful particles to increase the quantity of the product by decreasing its quality.

  • Commonly, traders and sellers play an important role in practicing these types of intentional adulteration. As in today’s era, where the price margin is skyrocketing consumers seek for a maximum quantity for as low price as possible. Therefore, traders are compelled to supply according to their demand thus adulteration occurs.
  • Prehistoric evidence on food terrorism are revealed in many countries like United Kingdom about the use of prohibited dyes – Sudan I and Para Red in Worcester Sauce and combining the nitrogen rich compound so-called melamine which is used in manufacturing of plastic products and cooking utensils was reported to be intentionally subjected on milk in China around 2008.
  • Similarly, in Germany, the throw away of the slaughterhouse was revealed to be blended with meat products and traded to the purchaser.
  • Adulterated food has huge impact not only on human health but also effect the health of animals, causing allergies, intoxications, paralysis, organ damages and so on.

Types of Adulteration of Food

With an extensive research and lab diagnosis, all foods are reported to be adulterated which are essential on our diet. Dairy and beverages, meat and fish products, grains, lentils and cereals, honey all fall into economically motivated adulteration.

We all have to be clear that food adulteration and food contamination differ completely with one another.

1. Intentional Adulteration of Food

  • Conscious addition of water, sand, stones, mud, chalk powder, coal tar dyes, urea, melamine in order to increase the volume even after knowing that these causes health hazards for the consumers as the quantity and quality of nutrients are deducted.
  • According to the article published in the Journal of Food Science, milk, honey, olive oil, saffron, orange juice, apple juice and coffee are the majority food products that are adulterated deliberately.
Intentional Adulteration of food
Intentional Adulteration of food

2. Incidental adulteration of Food

  • Unknowingly contamination of food products and drinks by natural consequences like improper processing, handling, storing, transporting and marketing all around the production site to the consumer table.
  • Residues of pesticides and insecticides, droppings and larvae of animals and insects, tin from canned products are the irrelevant products carried during the product operation.
Incidental adulteration of food
Incidental adulteration of food

3. Metallic Contamination of Food

  • Metallic contamination usually occurs through four medium – Air, Water, Soil and Food.
  • Fruits and vegetables that grow near the soil surface are more prone to exposure to metallic compounds.
  • Lead, arsenic, mercury, cadmium, these four toxic metals when consumed for a long term causes chronic infections leading to toxin formation and organ damage.

Adulterants on various food items and its impact on our health

Adulterated food products have severe health consequences. Harmful chemical and toxic compounds gets accumulated in the fatty tissues of our vital organs like liver, heart, kidney and thyroid, eventually causing liver cirrhosis, thyrotoxicosis, heart diseases and kidney failure.

List of Food adulterants
List of Food adulterants

Identification of Adulterated food

Some quick examination for common food products that we consume daily as our essential diets are either adulterated or not by following ways:

Identification of Adulteration in Milk

On a clear and polished slanted surface, put a few drop of milk sample and allow it to flow down the slope and observe for a white trail behind it, if so, then it is confirmed as pure milk but if it flows immediately without leaving a white mark then we can say that water is added as an adulterant.

Another common adulterant that adds up on milk is starch. To detect its presence, add 2-3 drops of iodine solution on a glass of milk sample and observe for the formation of blue color.

Identification of Adulteration in Sugar

Chalk powder is commonly added on sugar as a foreign particle to increase its volume. To find out whether the sugar is pure or not, take a spoonful of sugar solution with a glass full of water, stir and observe for the sugar to dissolve while the chalk powder settles down at the bottom of the glass.

Identification of Adulteration in Turmeric powder

Addition of lead chromate with whole turmeric appears to be bright in color but when gets dissolved in water leaves color immediately.

Identification of Adulteration in Common salt

Common salt and white powdered adulterants that we consume daily cannot be distinguished visually as both appear same. To confirm the adulteration, take a spoonful of common salt and stir it with a glass of water. The salt gets dissolved in water and forms a clear solution while the powdered chalk will make the solution white and turbid.

Identification of Adulteration in Edible oil

Take each 5ml of oil sample and concentrated hydrochloric acid and gently shake it for few minutes and let it set for 5 minutes until the color gets separated in upper layer.

Identification of Adulteration in Meat and Meat products

For meat and meat products, food authenticity assessment is one of the most critical issues. Using variety of analytical and molecular technologies, adulteration of meat can be detected easily when the adulterants are biological substances. The consumption of certain meat products are prohibited because of some religious concerns like in halal meat markets where replacement of pork, mutton and beef are done, use of  forbidden coloring chemicals and non-halal method of slaughtering.

To detect the meat fraudulent, specific molecular methods like PCR, DNA sequencing and hybridization, DNA amplification fingerprinting (DAF), Restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP), Amplified fragment length polymorphism (AFLP) and several chromatographic techniques like High liquid performance chromatography (HPLC), Thin layer Chromatography (TLC) and ion exchange chromatography can be used.

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  1. Bansal, S., Singh, A., Mangal, M., Mangal, A. K., & Kumar, S. (2015). Food adulteration: Sources, health risks, and detection methods. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 57(6), 1174–1189.
  2. Banerjee, D., Chowdhary, S., Chakraborty, S., & Bhattacharyya, R. (2017). Recent advances in detection of food adulteration. In Food Safety in the 21st Century (pp. 145–160).
  3. Schieber, A. (2018). Introduction to Food Authentication. In Modern Techniques for Food Authentication (pp. 1-21).

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