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Thursday, December 7, 2023
HomeEditorialDiagnosing milk purity: Consumers need to be alert and smart

Diagnosing milk purity: Consumers need to be alert and smart

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Adulteration in milk is not a new thing. I remember when I was a small child, a milkman used to carry those typical measurements and a big milk can on his bicycle to deliver milk door to door. My grandmother used to pour few drops on the floor by questioning the milkman: “Aaj Bhi Dudh Me Paani Milaya Kya? Doodh Patla Lag Raha Hai (Have you added water in the milk? Its consistency is thin.)”. This was the repetitive question to the milkman. Since childhood we knew that the milk is most commonly diluted with water — this not only reduces its nutritional value, but contaminated water can also cause additional health problems. But as the time changed and we adapted the modern ways of storing or packing milk, the adulteration has reached a dangerous level. The other adulterants used are mainly detergent, foreign fat, starch, sodium hydroxide (caustic soda), sugar, urea, pond water, salt, maltodextrin, sodium carbonate, formalin, and ammonium sulphate. It has been a cause of concern for both the government and the Dairy Industry. The Indian Council of Medical Research has reported, “Milk adulterants have hazardous health effects. The detergent in milk can cause food poisoning and other gastrointestinal complications. Its high alkaline level can also damage body tissue and destroy proteins. Other synthetic components can cause impairments, heart problems, cancer or even death. While the immediate effect of drinking milk adulterated with urea, caustic soda and formalin is gastroenteritis, the long-term effects are far more serious.”

Contaminated milk continues to be sold in Maharashtra despite crackdown measures taken by the authorities. The Maharashtra Food and Drug Administration (FDA), had, in a study, found that 20 per cent of the milk is adulterated. Though the study prompted immediate action and licences of 21 dairies to be suspended, yet, there is no respite. In another study, the NGO, Consumer Guidance Society of India (CSGI) Mumbai has found that 78.12 per cent of milk available in the open market, purchased/sampled by consumers and tested by CGSI does not comply with the FSSAI standards.

India produces a little over 105 million tonnes (mt) of milk annually and out of this, Mumbai consumes 1.65 mt. Of that, 0.61 million tonnes is substandard and adulterated. The problem is not restricted to just within the state. In 1999, Ahmedabad-based Consumer Education and Research Centre tested 28 brands of packed milk and two samples of loose milk from Ambawadi and Ambica, local dairies. All the 30 brands failed in microbiological parameters specified by the Bureau of Indian Standards. Most brands had coliform and E-Coli. Twenty-one samples failed fat content standards and four failed solid non-fat parameters. Preservatives were found in 12 samples and pesticide residues in 27. Heavy metals such as copper, lead, zinc, arsenic, cadmium, and mercury were also found. Milk from Gujarat comes into Maharashtra.

Milk adulteration takes place in the open and in areas like Antop Hill, Saki Naka, Kurla, Kurar village, Dahisar Baithi chawl, and Dharavi in Mumbai. In September 2005, the then deputy chief minister RR Patil along with the then Mumbai police crime branch had seized 10,000 litres of adulterated milk from slums in Kapaswadi (Andheri), Khar Danda, Vatsala Naik Nagar (Kurla), and Babhai Naka (Borivali) and arrested 39 people, who were charged with adulteration and forgery. Later on, they all were released on bail by paying some fine and back to the same business. The laws are weak and that is the reason such practices are not stoppable. Moreover, the FDA does not have a dedicated food testing laboratory of its own. It has asked the state government to set up six such laboratories in six divisional headquarters. The FDA now has to depend on the state public health department laboratory in Mumbai and Pune, and Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai (MCGM) laboratory at Dadar, where testing sometimes takes more than the stipulated 40 days. The state legislature had also come with a proposal to make milk adulteration a non-bailable offence but it is still in the draft stage.

Reports of substandard and adulterated food frequent the front pages of the newspapers. Samples of items we consume daily — milk, pulses, oils, vegetables, sugar among many others — have been rated substandard. While it is difficult to track the production process and locate the item’s source, simple tests can help you distinguish a pure sample from an adulterated one.

To find out water in milk, put a drop of milk on a polished, slanting surface. While pure milk either stays or flows slowly leaving a white trail behind, adulterated milk flows immediately without leaving a mark. To find out detergent in milk, Take 5-10 millilitres (ML) of milk sample and the equal quantity of water; shake the mixture thoroughly. If the milk is adulterated with detergent, it forms dense lather but pure milk will have a thin layer of foam.

Detecting starch in milk and milk products, boil 2-3 ml of the sample (milk, khoya, chenna or paneer) with 5 ml of water for other ghee and butter, water need not be added. Add 2-3 drops of tincture of iodine after letting it cool. Formation of a blue colour indicates the presence of starch.

Food adulteration is a global concern and developing countries are at higher risk associated with it due to lack of monitoring and policies. However, this is one of the most common phenomena that have been overlooked in many countries. Unfortunately, in contrast to common belief, milk adulterants can pose serious health hazards leading to fatal diseases. Just reading the news and condemning the act is not enough, we as responsible citizens need to be more alert and smart in diagnosing what we receive and consume.

Stay healthy and stay fit!


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Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman
Vaidehi Taman an Accredited Journalist from Maharashtra is bestowed with three Honourary Doctorate in Journalism. Vaidehi has been an active journalist for the past 21 years, and is also the founding editor of an English daily tabloid – Afternoon Voice, a Marathi web portal – Mumbai Manoos, and The Democracy digital video news portal is her brain child. Vaidehi has three books in her name, "Sikhism vs Sickism", "Life Beyond Complications" and "Vedanti". She is an EC Council Certified Ethical Hacker, OSCP offensive securities, Certified Security Analyst and Licensed Penetration Tester that caters to her freelance jobs.
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