Food Adulteration

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Food is the basic necessity of life. The food we eat is absorbed by our body and is used to run metabolic processes and sustain life. Food is essential for growth, and various life processes. An array of food in our daily diet includes, vegetables, fruits, legumes, pulses, grains, etc. All of these either consumed raw or made into delicacies and savored. But, nowadays, you might have seen very thin milk due to mixing with water, white, yellow or black pebbles in raw pulses, white tiny stones mixed with rice, and so on. This mixing of elements with food items is adulteration.

As we deal with the overgrowing population, environmental hazards, and depleting natural resources, one of the man-made hazards is the adulteration of food. When food is contaminated with external sources or when its natural composition or quality is changed, it is adulterated. Food adulteration has serious effects on our health. Despite various measures taken by the government, spreading awareness about the hazards of food adulteration, it is a prevalent practice in many countries. Various methods of food adulteration are deployed by the food industries using various chemical and synthetic substances. 

What is Food Adulteration

Adulteration is a legal offense and when the food fails to meet the legal standards set by the government, it is said to have been adulterated. Food adulteration takes place when intentionally or unintentionally substances that degrade the quality of food are added to it. Thus, food adulteration can be defined as the contamination or adulteration of food or food materials by adding harmful substances to it.


The substances that lower the quality of food, when added to it are called adulterants. It is a substance found within other food substances that hamper the natural quality of the food. The adulterant may be present in any form and in any quantity. Adulterants are mostly harmful and pose the ability to lower the potency of the product. Even if the adulterant is not harmful, it reduces the nutritional value of the food to a greater extent. Some adulterants are also identified as carcinogenic or lethal when exposed to for a longer period. Different types of adulterants are used to adulterate different types of food.

Food Is Considered Adulterated If-

  • A substance that degrades the quality of food or turns it hazardous is added to it.

  • Cheaper or low-quality substances are used as a substitute for whole or a few ingredients.

  • A constituent of food is a partly or wholly taken out, reducing the quality of food.

  • It’s made presentable with harmful substances. Or its color is changed to make it look better.

  • Anything that depreciates the quality of food is added to or abstracted from it.

Examples of Food Adulteration

Mixing of pulses with sand particles, pebbles.

Mixing milk with water.

Mixing oil with chemical derivatives or cheaper oils.

Packing low quality food products with fresh and high quality ones.

These are a few examples of food adulteration.

Why is Food Adulteration Done?

For many years, you might have noticed the practice of adding water to milk to increase its quantity and gain more profit from less volume of milk. Similarly, food adulteration is done by food manufacturers and industries for various reasons.

  1. Food adulteration is practiced as a part of a business strategy to gain more profit by cheaper means.

  1. It is also done to make the food presentable and as an imitation of some other food which is more in demand.

  1. Food adulteration is many times done by those who do not have a proper understanding of its hazards. Due to a lack of awareness and proper knowledge it is still widely practiced.

  1. Adulteration increases the weight of the food, helps gain more profit, and increases sales in cheaper ways.

  1. The increasing rate of the population also plays a major role in food adulteration.

  1. The inefficiency of government initiatives to control it.

Types of Food Adulteration

There are four different types of food adulteration.

  • Intentional Adulteration- When substances which look similar to the constituents of the food are added to it, to increase its weight and gain more profit. Example- mixing of pebbles, stones, marbles, sand, mud, filth, chalk powder, contaminated water, etc.

  • Incidental Adulteration- Incidental adulteration occurs due to negligence while handling food. Like residues of pesticides in grains, larvae growth, presence of droppings of rodents, etc.

  • Metallic Adulteration- The addition of metallic materials into food like lead or mercury is metallic adulteration. It may happen accidentally or even intentionally.

  • Packaging Hazard- The packing materials in which the food is packed may also interfere and mix with the constituents of the food, leading to packaging hazards.

Methods of Food Adulteration

Various food adulteration methods are as follows-

  • Mixing- Mixing of sand, dust, clay, mud, pebbles with food particles.

  • Substituting- Some healthy constituents are replaced by cheaper and low-quality ones, which alter the nutritional values of the food and may even impose a health hazard.

  • Using Decomposed Food- This method indicates mixing decomposed food with healthy ones. Food that even conceals damage or inferiority of any manner is also considered to be adulterated. Also, the deliberate mixing of healthy food with questionable quality food leads to the final product adulterated.

  • Additions of Toxic Substances- Food adulteration also involves the mixing of food with toxic substances to gain higher profit and increase sales. Example- Addition of color, dyes, or harmful unpermitted preservatives.

  • Misbranding- Altering the manufacturing dates, expiry dates, list of ingredients or misleading ingredient derivatives, and so on.

  • Artificial Ripening- Adding chemicals to the fruits and vegetables which speed up the process of ripening in them, is also considered as food adulteration. Example- Mango is ripened with carbide for meeting the commercial demand against supply.

Effects of Food Adulteration

Food adulteration has a great impact on our health. Be it any kind of adulteration, prolonged consumption of this type of food is very harmful to the body. Consuming such food increases the toxicity in the body. As the nutritional value of the adulterated food goes down, such food is not anymore nutritive for the body. The addition of chemical adulterants and colors many times prove to be fatal. As they pose an onset of health risks and also carcinogens. Some adulterated food may also affect our internal organs directly leading to heart, kidney, liver, and many more organ disorders and failure.

How to Detect Food Adulteration

Food adulteration has many ill effects on our health. Prolonged consumption of adulterated food may even prove to be lethal. The use of organic food is more trending these days, as organic foods give us the complete nutrition that a particular food is supposed to give. It is not laden with harmful chemicals or polished with toxins like wax. But, due to low productivity, organic food is not always available and is more expensive than the common produce. Therefore, it is important to detect if your food is adulterated. Various home methods can be used to do this.

Example- To determine if milk is adulterated with detergents, take some milk in a bottle along with some water and shake it well. If it settles into a frothy layer, it is pure. If the milk is adulterated, it forms a thick layer.

Similarly, if you want to know if milk, sugar or jaggery is adulterated with chalk powder, take your sample and mix in a glass of water. Any precipitate at the bottom of the glass indicates the presence of chalk.

To determine if the vegetables are polished with color, soak them in water for some time and you will be able to see the color getting dissolved in water.

How to Prevent Food Adulteration

  1. On the industry level, food adulteration can only be checked with strict and stringent laws and government interventions and checks.

  1. To avoid consuming adulterated food, always make sure that you don’t buy deep or dark-colored groceries.

  1. Stop consuming processed food.

  1. Wash or soak your fruits and vegetables well in water before consuming.

  1. Canned or tinned foods must be checked for any leakages or puffing before buying.

  1. In Indian markets, FSSAI is the government license number which stands for food safety. Thus, always make sure to look for FSSAI, list of ingredients, manufacturing, and expiry dates on the food packs.

FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions)

1. What is Food Adulteration?

The addition of any substance by any means that alters the quality of food is food adulteration. The substance which is added is called adulterant. Mixing fresh food with low-quality ones is also adulteration.

2. How will you detect if milk is Adulterated?

A few home tests may help to identify if the milk is adulterated. This includes mixing and shaking of milk and checking for any precipitates to confirm the presence of chalk powder in milk. A frothy layer indicates the presence of detergent, and a very light and free-flowing drop of the sample indicates that the milk is adulterated with water.