A quick guide to detecting adulteration

Use this guide to know everything from common adulterants entering the market in Bengaluru to how to detect them and more.

The common adulterants in pulses, tea, soft drinks, sweets, oil, saffron, coffee and chilli powder and so on are as follows.

Pulses: Stone is a common occurrence in rice and Tur Dal. Kesari dal is a banned product and is sometimes sold as Tur dal, especially at times when Tur dal prices are high. It contains toxins that can paralyse the individual if consumed for two or three months.

"We discovered the dal (Kesari passed off as Tur dal) was being sold in Karnataka border for Rs 25 to Rs 30 per kg and was being passed off for Tur Dal. This is a dangerous level of adulteration and one that you can figure out only if you are trained."- Santhana Rajan, of Consumer Association of India (CAI).

Tea (sold loose): Waste (leftover leaves after straining the tea) is collected from tea stalls, dried in the sun, mixed with colours (water soluble coal tar dyes) and some amount of genuine tea to give it the flavour and this mixture is sold as loose tea.

Soft drinks and colas: Consumer groups in Bangalore have received frequent complaints of worm or foreign particles found in them.

Sweets and dairy products: Instances of food poisoning and other health problems reported after consumption of oily and fried sweetmeats like Mysore Pak and so on.

Coffee powder: Mixed with chicory powder. Also ground tamarinds and date seeds.

Saffron: Due to high cost, it’s adulterated with dyed tendrils of maize cob and coloured paper strips.

Black Pepper: Dried Papaya fruit seeds. Could lead to digestive problems.

Santhana Rajan of Consumer Association of India (CAI) found tea adulteration is a common practice in the Karnataka-Tamilnadu border. This costs Rs 80 per kg whereas genuine tea is 100 per kg he adds.

Chilli Powder: To increase the bulk is adulterated with brick powder and water soluble coal tar colour. The colour is added to mask the added starch and increase brightness. May damage teeth and intestinal lining.

Ghee: Adulterated with margarine and potato starch.

Edible Oils: Argemone Oil is added as adulterant.

Sugar and Salt: Chalk Powder added.

(Compiled with inputs from: Y G Muralidharan of Consumer Rights Education and Awareness Trust (CREAT), Bangalore; Vijetha B V, Research Scholar; Santhana Rajan, Consumer Association of India (CAI), Chennai; Mysore Grahakara Parishat)

Detecting adulteration – simple methods

Some detection methods may require turning your kitchen into a reasonably stocked chemistry lab, but there a few simple ones that can be done any day.

1. Tea: Place tea on filter paper and add water with a dropper over the heap of leaves. Adulterated coloured tea will leave streaks of colour on the filter paper.

2. Chilli Powder: Sprinkle chilli powder (about 25 gms) on a transparent glass of water. Artificially coloured powder will dissolve with red streaks and brick powder will settle at the bottom and will be gritty to the touch.

3. Common salt/sugar: Dissolve 10-15 gms in a glass of water. Allow to settle for five minutes. The unadulterated samples will dissolve completely. Sediments deposited at the bottom indicate the presence of chalk powder.

4. Mustard seeds: If adulterated with argemone seeds will have a grainy and rough surface. If pressed, the inside of the argemone seed is white, while mustard is yellow.

CAI also offers a food adulteration kit called Annam Spot Test Kit. It is priced at Rs 500. The kit is not available in Bangalore as of now, however, one can place an order for it to CAI. It can identify 33 adulterants in regularly used food items like cereals, pulses, ice cream, milk, butter, oils, coffee powder, tea leaves, spices, confectionary, etc. The adulterants can range from the common case of stones found in rice to very harmful urea, dyes, boric powder, etc.

Consumer Association of India (CAI)
3/242, Rajendra Garden
Chennai – 600 041
Ph: (044)2449 4576
(044)2449 4578

The kit was developed by CONCERT (Centre for Consumer Education, Research, Teaching, Training and Testing) in Chennai after long research and study.

(Section compiled with inputs from CAI and researcher Vijetha B V)

Filing a complaint

While it may not be the most practical of solutions every time to turn your kitchen into a testing lab, if you do suspect your food products to be adulterated you could try to register a complaint. Here are the different ways to go about it.

Consumer Rights Education and Awareness Trust (CREAT)
No.900, 15th Cross, First Phase,
First Stage, Chandra Layout,
Nagarbhavi Post, Bangalore
Ph: 080 23181648

Approach a consumer rights group: You can approach a consumer rights group like CREAT who can help you with the process. They can get the suspected sample tested and make a complaint on your behalf.

Go to the Public Health Institute: You could take suspected samples and get them analysed at the state food laboratory of the Public Health Institute and register a complaint if adulteration is found.

You could also file a complaint with your zonal BBMP health officer and give the details of the provision store or hotel you obtained the adulterated foodstuff from.

The law

There are two laws you need to know about in this context. One, Prevention of Food Adulteration Act 1954, is the law that is currently in force, and the other, Food and Safetly Standards Act 2006 which was supposed to repeal and replace the older one, has not yet been passed.

The PFA Act is meant to protect the consumer from adulteration. "There are loopholes in the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act (PFAA) 1954 itself," says Bangalore-based Y G Muralidharan of CREAT.

According to Muralidharan and other activists, there is no standardisation in the testing methods, resulting in different levels of impurities in different labs. Moreover the PFAA t has no clear categorisation for several new food products packaged foods, energy drinks, etc. Worse still, laboratories across the state where the samples are analyses are often in poor state and the act makes no provision for their improvement.

The new Food Safety and Standards Act (FSSA) 2006, which is more stringent than the older PFAA is yet to be implemented as several provisions need to be worked upon. However, the general consensus is that the FSSA which when in force will repeal the PFAA and other food legistations, is by her a more comprehensive piece of legislation.

"The FSS Act allows for a lot of public participation," says Muralidharan, "they have also given importance to labeling requirements and strengthening the laboratories. Moreover, consumer organisations, like ours are recognised as partners and can get samples tested and file complaints under the new act."   ⊕


Related Articles

Adulterated foods in the markets galore


  1. Sunil says:


    For the past several weeks we have been receiving Nilgiris milk at our door step which smells even when boiled and even curds made from it smells.

    How do we detect if its adulterated and to whom do we complain in Bangalore?

  2. Admin says:

    Response from author:

    Hi Sunil,
    One contact point who could guide you on how to go about testing this the right way is Creat, the consumer action group. The number is mentioned in the article. Contact Mr Muralidharan or any of his team members. CAI could also guide you, however they are based in Chennai.


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