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Toxic beverages hazardous for human health

28,February, 2015

Various additives and contaminants, particularly the non-permitted substances, are often found in beverages. These substances and associated health hazards are discussed and some precautionary measures are suggested.

Drinking water may contain excess fluoride, a common cause of fluorosis. The nitrites or nitrates in the beverages can come from fields where chemical fertilisers are applied to soil. These chemicals can cause methaemoglobianemia and even cancer. Cyanide (a nerve poison) has been found in May 2014 in packaged drinking water by Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Maharashtra, at two bottling plants in the state. In other samples, contamination of coliform bacteria in high proportion was detected.

Milk and tea

Milk is diluted with water or mixed with boric acid, glucose, starch, wheat flour, arrowroot, rice flour, urea, skimmed milk powder and harmful detergents. Milk was found adulterated with gentamycin at a level of 40-80 ug/ml in some samples, and mixing of formalin (40%) helps to preserve milk for a long time. Prohibited neutralisers such as, hydrated lime, sodium hydroxide, sodium carbonate or sodium bicarbonate, are added for uniform consistency.

Milk is contaminated with virus-A which is generally present in human faeces or urine that causes infectious hepatitis. This is most probable in places with poor sanitary conditions. In market samples, milk contained a mycotoxin aflatoxin-1 and traces of chlorpyriphos. Improperly processed milk contains bacteria and Shigellosis is the outcome of bacterial contamination. Animal feed contaminated with mycotoxins can result in the carry-over of toxins through milk to consumers.

Commercial tea is mixed with used tea or coloured leaves, sawdust, husk of chick pea or black gram. These adulterants can produce cancer. A synthetic pyrethroid (propathrin) was found beyond limited content (4.3 ppm versus permitted 2 ppm) in market samples. Coffee powder is mixed with chicory, cereal starch or scorched persimmon stones.

Other drinks

Popular soft drinks include several branded products marketed by private firms. These drinks may contain caffeine, taurine, sweeteners and supplements without energy providers. It is proved that the obesity in USA is increasing with cola consumption. In India, the great worry for school authorities and parents is that school children prefer soft drinks. Unfortunately, the powerful business firms convince consumers through TV programmes and attractive advertisements in local media for their products often sponsored by the celebrities. There is however interesting news that coca cola sales have come down by 7% due to awareness of its effect on human health. An overdose of cola results in morbidity fat and serious sickness. There is need to ban sugary beverages that often contain addictive chemicals. Recently there have been reports from Africa that cola production is decreasing fast and the cost of such drinks may shoot up by mega proportions. Brominated vegetable oils if present in cold drink can cause anaemia. The allura red colour is added to soft drinks which can produce hypersensitivity.

Street drinks may contain cadmium that causes acute gastritis, kidney damage and prostate cancer. Cardiac insufficiency or myocardial failure can be a result of cobalt content. Vendors sell juices and prepare candies on the street. Water, used in juice of sugarcane or lime and ice put in juices can contain bacteria (Staphylococcus, Bacillus and faecal coliforms). Lemonade soda contains mineral acid. The roadside ice gola, popular amongst children, may contain rhodamine B colour.

In urban and rural areas, local wine based on fermented mahua or millet grains is a common scenario. It is cheap and satisfies poor man’s giddiness. This drink containing crude alcohol/methanol or spirit is dangerous to liver and digestive system and can produce blurred vision or even blindness.. Nevertheless, for the sake of taxes, government allows these shops to sell these liquors openly.

Safety measures

Since beverages can be contaminated during their journey from the factory to the consumers, handling plays an important role in spreading contamination. In any case, precaution is necessary to avoid poisoning of chemicals. For this, consumers should check expiry date on the packet label and should reject unpermitted beverages for the content of chemicals. This can be done through demonstration of the detection of additives and contaminants. In the past, there have been complaints by consumers that commercials follow for soft drinks. Therefore, the Central Consumer Protection Council, the apex body for consumer protection , has set up a committee to deal with false claims made in advertisements appearing on TV, radio and in print e.g., milk supplement including Complan (Heinz), Horlicks (GlaxoSmithKline).

Similarly, under the Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issues notices from time to time to companies. In future, the government would have to amend the Consumer Protection Act of 1986 which holds only manufacturers responsible for making false claims. Thus, there is need to prepare guidelines for social and economic responsibilities of business firms because it is not easy to settle matters through the National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission. Regulations for transportation of beverages should be made stringent so that advertisers do not exploit loopholes and display boards on vehicles because consumers may prefer the greatly advertised drinks without knowing their long-term health impact.

Analysis of surveillance data

Misuse and illegal use of additives creating food safety problems can lead to health hazards. However, link of chemical hazards with illness if often difficult as this may take a long time after consumption. Consumers therefore must be stimulated for risk-based approach backed by information. The health authorities should keep watch on illegal activity. In few states, policy-makers have, however, made certain changes and the public health department is scrupulously supervising application of laws and regulations with an objective to get healthy and safe beverages. Recently, formation of the National Food Quality Control Board has been muted and the ministry of health and family welfare has constituted a National Codex Committee and established the National Food Science and Risk Assessment Centre for carrying out analysis of food surveillance data. Sampling and verification of the content at the recommended analytical laboratories is another way. The system of the Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) is also available in India to identify, and evaluate health hazards. Concept of the food safety objectives developed by FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) and WHO

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