Navratri is one of the most auspicious times observed by millions of people in the country. The demand for particular food ingredients and specific product categories goes up considerably during this time. Food items such as 'Kuttu ka Atta' (Buckwheat Flour), 'Singhare ka Atta' (Chestnut flour), Spices Khoya, paneer, milk, ghee, oil and other products such as 'Pooja Samagri' (e.g., Dhup, Roli, Chandan (Sandalwood), etc.) are high in demand.
While brands and suppliers prepare to cater to these increasing needs, many take advantage of unaware consumers, gaps in demand and supply, weak enforcement measures, and the absence of authentication and traceability policy measures to prevent food fraud.
During the last Navratri, an incident surfaced where hundreds of people fell sick due to the consumption of spoiled 'Kuttu ka atta' (buckwheat flour). This is just one of the numerous incidents that happen every year in different parts of the country, showing how big the whole problem is. The local markets get infested with tons of adulterated flour, oil, spices, milk products -- ghee, milk, paneer, khoya, etc which contain elements that are extremely injurious to health. Spices and flour have been found adulterated with lead, cow dung, sawdust, etc. Mustard oil is found to be adulterated with Argemone oil which is toxic, among other things. Chandan (Sandalwood powder) and Roli are adulterated with unapproved chemical colours and substances, which could cause skin problems/damage and rashes.
Nakul Pasricha, President, Authentication Solution Providers' Association (ASPA), talking about the issue
said, "Food fraud -- adulterated and fake food, is a problem of great magnitude, especially during the festive season. Consumption of adulterated food is the cause of many tragedies every year, it has grown into one of the biggest threats to public health and general well-being. According to PwC, Food fraud is estimated to cost the global industry $30 to $40 billion a year. As per World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated 600 million -- almost 1 in 10 people in the world -- fall ill after eating contaminated food and 4,20,000 die every year, resulting in the loss of 33 million healthy life years (DALYs). Nearly $110 billion is lost each year in productivity and medical expenses resulting from unsafe food in low- and middle-income countries. The fight to reduce this menace is incomplete without the active participation of consumers. Awareness of the consumers, a little bit of vigilance and care while buying a product can help in reducing unfortunate incidents."
There are simple ways in which you can avoid buying adulterated food items and save your family from such tragedies during the auspicious time of Navratri:
- Opt for an authorized vendor and be sure to take the bill: Try to buy only from authorized retail shops, as it is expected that they keep genuine products. Do not fall prey to online delivery of advertisements from new or unknown platforms. Always insist on a proper bill. Bill helps in proving responsibility in case the seller sells you a falsified item.
- Opt for packaged food ingredients and buy from trusted retail outlets only.
- Beware of fake websites: While using online delivery systems do not fall prey to attractive prices and discounts. Go online to re-verify the website and make sure it is authentic and trustworthy. Fake online shopping websites will sell you fake products or cheat you for your money.
- Check the packaging before buying: Instead of buying loose and open food ingredients, it is recommended to buy packed ingredients from trusted brands. Responsible brands and retailers make a lot of effort to ensure that only good quality and standardized products reach the customers. Make sure the packaging is secure and authentic. Do not accept products with damaged or faulty packaging. Always check the expiry date of the product. If anything seems to miss then raise an alarm and report.
- Check nutrition label: Always read the nutrition label carefully. Checking for nutrition facts on the label reflects our greater understanding of the links between diet and chronic disease. Nutrition labels can help in identifying fakes from originals. Fake items usually have some ingredients listed which are not actually in the original supplements.
- Always ask for a proper bill for your purchase: Having a proper bill for your purchase will come in handy if you find a problem with the product after buying it. It proves the origin of the product and also helps in tracking the product's movement through the supply chain.
- Do an authentication/authenticity check: Some brands provide authentication provisions on the packaging of the product. One can easily check the authenticity of a product by sending an SMS or digitally by scanning a QR code or barcode. Follow the procedure and make sure that you are purchasing an authentic and safe product.
- Do simple tests before using the product: One must also be vigilant while using food and other items. Beware of inconsistency in texture, smell, and colour of the product. Other simple tests can be done at home which can easily determine the purity of a product.
If the product you have purchased turns out to be a fake or faulty one, raise a flag and report it. Your participation might inspire proper action against the faltering party or fraud and make the market safer. A small action by you can ensure the safety and health of your family. This Navratri let's take a pledge to make the world a safer place by fighting adulterated and unsafe food.