Milk and milk products are more likely to be unsafe or substandard than other food products sold in Delhi, according to test reports of food samples analysed by the state’s food safety department.
As many as 477 of the 2,880 food samples, both packaged and freshly prepared, tested by the Delhi’s food safety department between January 2018 and April 2019, failed quality tests.
A large-scale study by the national food safety regulator done last year found 90% of the milk sold and consumed in India was safe.
Milk and milk products accounted for 161 of the failed tests, according to government data. Of these, 21 products were misbranded and 125 were found to be substandard. Fifteen others were unsafe.
“Usually, milk samples fail to meet standard because the fats or solids-not-fat content is less than the standards mentioned in the act. Sometimes cows produce milk that is not up to the standard. Since it does not have a serious affect of health,we usually do not prosecute small dairy farmers,” said an official from Delhi government’s health department, on condition of anonymity.
In 2017, the national regulator — Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) – reduced specifications for the required quantity of fats and ‘solids-not-fat’ in milk to ensure samples naturally low in these do not fail the test.
“In general, milk may contain adulterants like sugar or glucose, which might not be harmful to health but an adulterant nonetheless. However, in the case of unsafe milk, there could be adulterants like soda and hydrogen peroxide, which is harmful to health. Contaminants like mycotoxins and antibiotics can also find their way in the milk if the fodder or the milk is not handled properly at the farm,” said Kuldeep Sharma, founder of Suruchi Consultants, a dairy sector consulting firm.
“To guarantee that you get safe milk, ensure that the package is intact, check the best before date, and see whether it was kept in a refrigerator in the store,” he added.
Most of the samples failed tests because of misbranding, which means certain nutritional information was either omitted or printed wrong. Of the 477 failed samples, 144 samples were found to be substandard and 90 unsafe.
“A food is considered to be substandard when the nutritional level is not as per standards, for example, milk with less fat. Misbranded products and substandard products attract fines. But foods that are unsafe can damage health, and the manufacturers are fined and risk imprisonment,” said a senior official from Delhi’s health department.
The law allows for six months’ imprisonment and R 1 lakh fine for unsafe foods that have not caused injury. Causing injury can result in a prison term extending to six years and a fine of R 5 lakh. In case of death, the law allows for imprisonment of not less than seven years and a fine of not less than R 10 lakh.
The results show 180 “non-standard” food items fail the tests, of which 59 were unsafe.
“These are food items for which there are no set standards as per the law, but are contaminated, contain restricted chemicals, or have the composition different from what is claimed by the manufacturers,” said the official.
The Correspondent Bureau with inputs from agencies