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Well oiled ‘cracked egg racket’ comes to surface

16,November, 2018

During routine inspection, food officials stumble on a supply network of damaged eggs, which poses a major health issue

Madurai is renowned for its non-vegetarian food, and egg is a staple item in a majority of the restaurants and roadside eateries in the city. It is common to see order takers in these places nudging their customers to go for omelette, scrambled egg or a bull’s eye, presumably due to the high profit margin in egg-based items.

However, a series of raids by Tamil Nadu Food Safety and Drug Administration Department (FSDA) has revealed that eating egg-based food, either cooked or baked, is not safe. Ahead of Deepavali, what began as a raid to identify adulteration in preparation of sweets and savouries has led FSDA officials to stumble on an well-oiled supply network of cracked and damaged eggs, which poses a major health issue.

M. Somasundaram, Designated Officer, Food Safety, says the racket surfaced while they were inspecting a large manufacturing unit of bakery items and snacks at Melakkal last Friday. “A foul smell came from nowhere and we traced it to an area where a large number of trays of eggs were stored. A closer look revealed that all were cracked and damaged,” he says.

This startling discovery led to focused raids and the trail led to three egg wholesalers, eight large manufacturing units of bakery items and number of small eateries that dealt with damaged eggs. While some have been closed, others were served notices.

According to the officials, damaged eggs collected from poultry farms and eggs that develop cracks during transportation are collected separately and sold to ‘dealers’ who specialise in selling them in bulk. In most cases, this racket originates in Namakkal itself. Trucks exclusively transporting damaged eggs from Namakkal, a place famous for its poultry farms, reach godowns of wholesalers from where they are taken by agents for supply down the chain.

While bulk supplies go to select bakery units, there is also demand for such eggs in smaller eateries. “We found five outlets around Arappalayam bus stand using these eggs,” an official said.

In huge bakery units, these eggs are mainly used in cakes and macaroons, and for coating on puffs, called ‘egg wash’ to give the golden sheen. “Many small bakeries in the city do not make products in-house. They get a regular supply of various products from these nondescript big units, where usage of cracked eggs is rampant,” the official says.

In eateries

In eateries, they are used in a variety of egg-based dishes, including egg parotta and scrambled eggs (muttai poriyal), the officials say. While the exact price at which these cracked eggs are sold is hard to come by, officials say it should be one-third or one-fourth of the regular price.

Dr. Somasundaram says cracked eggs are prone to a variety of infections from bacteria and other micro organisms such as pseudomonas and salmonella. “Eggs, once the shell cracks, must be eaten within couple of hours. At home, you can pour the egg in a vessel and use it after a few more hours if refrigerated. However, in this supply chain of cracked eggs, they are often used after a day or two,” he says.

While food poisoning is the common ailment, eating such eggs could also lead to other gastric illnesses and infectious diseases. A majority of the food poisoning cases go unreported. Hence it is difficult to correlate. However, the health risks are indeed huge,” he says.

Welcoming the crackdown, G. Gomathinayagam, secretary, Federation of Consumer Rights Organisation of Tamil Nadu, says officials must expand the search to other districts. “This could be a State-wide phenomenon. A concerted effort is needed throughout Tamil Nadu to control this menace. The suppliers and manufacturing units must be given stringent punishment so that it acts as a deterrent for others,” he says.

An awareness must be created among public to take utmost caution while having food outside homes and they must also exercise their rights as consumers. “A district-level committee with representatives from different walks of life must be constituted by FSDA. It has not been done in many districts,” he says.

“Not possible”

S. Anburajan, president, Tamil Nadu Bakers’ Federation, however, denies the allegations of rampant usage of cracked eggs in bakery units. “Once an egg develops cracks, it gets rotten soon. Rotten eggs cannot be used in cakes or puffs,” he says.

However, periodic training and awareness programmes are organised for members of their federation to sensitise them on risks involved in using cracked eggs and other substandard ingredients, he says. “We also educate them on rules and regulations that govern the industry,” he says.

Categories: NEWS
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