KOCHI: As Aparna, a health-conscious working mother in Kochi, enters a hypermarket, she knows exactly what to buy. But she was in for the shock of her life buying biscuits! The ‘fat-free’ digestive biscuits she bought for her diabetic father contained 15 per cent hidden fat, which hiked his daily caloric intake to precarious levels.
Wrapped in sugar-coated advertisements, grossly misleading health claims on labels of packed food products are shoved down the throats of credulous customers daily.
Now, the bummer. Official data has made a startling revelation that about 20 percent (one-fifth) of all packed food items sold in Kerala are either adulterated or misbranded.
According to the annual report of the Public Laboratory Testing, authorities had registered a total of 586 cases in connection with adulteration and slapped Rs 1.38 crore as a fine between 2014 and 2016. The report notes of the 4,931 samples analysed from Kerala, 923 were adulterated or misbranded. Sources said the samples of various food articles of brands across the spectrum have been found to be adulterated or misbranded.
“Be it coconut oil, milk, tea, rice, spices or items included in our daily diet, adulteration is taking place at an alarming level. Harmful chemicals were also found in many of these products. The best way to tackle the issue is to create awareness and further strengthen the monitoring mechanisms,” said a food safety officer.
While food manufacturers often use nutritional facts to make health claims on their products, the regulations do not have a list of authorised or unauthorised health claims. Most health claims are misleading as health depends on the total diet and lifestyle, not just on one product. Though rules under the Food Safety and Standards (Packaging and Labelling) Regulations, 2011, mandate that such claims are scientifically substantiated, they are vague on the substantiation standards. Experts say the low conviction rate and lack of officers are prime reasons for such food items finding their way into the shelves.