Food contamination: Offenders must be punished

A M K Chowdhury
According to a news report titled “Wage war on food adulteration”dated May 13, 2019, the High Court urged the prime minister to declare a war on food adulteration, and directed the government to immediately remove from the market the 52 food items that have been found substandard by Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution. “If necessary, the state may declare an emergency for preventing food adulteration,” the HC observed, adding that food adulteration cannot be tolerated and there can be no compromise on this.The substandard items include daily essentials such as salt, turmeric and chilli powder. Certain brands of vermicelli that see high demand during the Ramadan are also among the food products.Besides, samples of certain brands of mustard oil, bottled drinking water, curry powder, ghee, flour, noodles, crisps and biscuits were also found substandard by the BSTI.
As we know food poisoning occurs after eating food contaminated by bacteria. The symptoms of food poisoning are in essence the same as those of stomach flu: abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and fever. Bacteria live on foods we eat such as meat, poultry and fish and can also be found in raw milk, water and on raw vegetables.
How do bacteria get into our food chain? Animals carry bacteria on their skins or hides and in their intestines. These bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli or Clostridium perfringens are pathogenic and can cause illness. The transfer of bacteria from the hide or the intestine can occur during the slaughtering process. When cattle are slaughtered, their hide is removed. If great care is not taken, any faecal matter on the hide can come into contact with the flesh.
This writer spotlighted the issue in February 2019.
Biological contamination
Biological contamination refers to food that is contaminated by organisms or substances they produce. This includes biological matter produced by humans, rodents, insects and microorganisms. Bacteria and viruses are typically the two biggest causes of biological contamination and can result in some of the most common types of food poisoning including salmonella, E .coli, listeria and norovirus. Thoroughly washing your hands and sanitising the food handling equipment are two of the best ways to prevent against bacterial contamination.
Physical contamination is when a foreign object contaminates food. This can happen at any stage of the production process and could include Band-Aids, steel wool or pieces of plastic. Physical contamination can cause injury to an individual who inadvertently consumes the foreign object. The added risk associated with physical contamination is that the foreign object could be carrying biological contamination.
Chemical contamination refers to food that has been contaminated with a natural or artificial chemical substance. These contaminants are particularly dangerous as they expose people to any number of toxic substances, some of which can be fatal. Chemicals can also contaminate food at any time of the food process, whether by pesticides transferred from the soil the food is grown in or during the manufacturing process. Storing chemicals separately from food is essential to help protect against chemical contamination.
Excessive levels of lead in milk
A government-commissioned study has found in raw cow milk excessive levels of lead, regular consumption of which is harmful to human health. Conducted by the National Food Safety Laboratory of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the study also detected high levels of chromium in cow feeds.
It found excessive presence of pesticide, antibiotic and bacteria in raw cow milk. “Heavy metals found in milk basically came from cattle feeds, while pesticide is present because of its excessive use in grass and other agricultural feeds,” Prof Shahnila Ferdousi, head of the National Food Safety Laboratory (NFSL) said. “This happens mostly due to the lack of awareness among farmers and feed manufacturers,” she said.
The study was conducted after collecting 96 samples of cow raw milk, 30 of cow feed, 33 of curd and 31 of packed milk—randomly from 18 places in Dhaka, Gazipur and Narayanganj between August and December last year. It was aimed at providing baseline data about the contaminants in milk and milk products and cow feed in the country and raising awareness among consumers and stakeholders and suggesting appropriate remedies.
Safety of milk is crucial as it is a major source of nutrients, vitamins and minerals for people of all ages, especially children. About 90 percent of the total milk consumed in the country comes from cow. A least 15 percent raw milk and 3 percent packed milk had high lead and alfatoxins (a family of toxins produced by certain fungi) higher than the maximum residue level (MRL) which is legally tolerated in food or feed.
Though lead above MRL was found in one curd sample, 51 percent of positive curd samples had higher levels of bacteria. What’s alarming is that contamination was found in cow feed samples. Cow feeds could be the major source of milk contamination. About 69 percent positive samples of cow feed had higher levels of chromium, 100 percent samples had drug residues, while excessive aflatoxins were found in 19 percent cow feeds.
Pesticide was found exceeding MRL in 100 samples and antibiotic above MRL in 13 percent raw milk, among the positive samples. About 96 percent raw milk had the presence of higher levels of bacteria.
Antibiotic tetracycline in milk
Bacteria was present in 66-80 percent samples of local and imported packed milk, while around 30 percent packed milk had antibiotic tetracycline above MRL.“Besides, 60 to 80 percent local packed milk fails to meet the microbial safety parameters,” said the NFSL chief.Despite significant progress in the public health sector, food-borne diseases remain a major health concern in Bangladesh, experts say. They have suggested continuous quality assessment of milk and milk products, which can easily be contaminated, to prevent those diseases.
“Regular consumption of milk contaminated with pesticide residues may cause pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, leukaemia, skin sensitisation, allergic reaction and rash,” said Mohidus Samad Khan, associate professor at Buet’s chemical engineering department.He also said excessive use of antibiotics like enrofloxacin and cyprosin in cattle feeds may cause antibiotic resistance, which reduces or eliminates the effectiveness of antibiotics on bacterial infection and diseases. “Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today. Heavy metals in milk or any edible items may cause a wide range of health effects including cancer.”
Excessive use of antibiotics
Dr Md Nurul Islam, dean of animal husbandry faculty at Bangladesh Agricultural University, said contaminated cow feed and excessive use of antibiotics are the main reasons for presence of heavy metals in milk. Apart from this, unhygienic milking is another reason for the presence of bacteria in milk, he said. “Milkmen should be trained on scientific and hygienic ways of milking while preservation of milk and cow feeds should be monitored strictly,” he said.
In our country one can sell fruits easily and one can apply toxic chemicals on them also. It is possible in Bangladesh to mix formalin with fish, brick powder with chillies powder and mobil oil or artificial colour for frying chanachur. Carbide is used to ripen fruits prematurely and formalin for a longer shelf-life. Unscrupulous traders are engaged in ripening seasonal fruits by using poisonous chemicals whichare hazardous for health.
People of this country continue to suffer due to the inaction of the law enforcers, even if there is a law or order from the authority or the court. It may be mentioned as an instance that the law enforcers have been taking very little action against the traders adulterating food items or mixing toxic chemicals endangering people’s health. According to a practising general physician, consuming the chemically-treated fruits might cause kindney failure and may also affect brain. In the long term, consumption of such fruits might cause cancer.
This is the second time that the High Court has issued directives to a number of authorities to eliminate fruit chemicals. It is matter of great satisfaction as well as pride for the citizens of the country that the High Court has on many occasions taken stand in favour of major issues of public interest when the adminstration was unwilling or unable to protect the interest of the people. It is time that the wrongdoers are punished.

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