Indians and their love for sweets, or “mithai” are inseparable. Be it festivals, birthday celebrations, weddings, graduations, or the need for a quick mood upliftment, the humble mithai is omnipresent. With the festival of lights just around the corner, emotions attached to these sweet treats will soon make Indians throng the local halwais and their upscale counterparts to pamper their sweet tooth.
Every year during Diwali, the demand for sweets increases manifolds in all parts of India. Confectionery shops leave no stone unturned in trying to make the best of the festive season by increasing their production, introducing new varieties of sweets, and lighting up their shops to attract consumers.
However, veiled behind this joyful ambiance, is the evil called rampant adulteration of sweets. In a bid to increase production, fulfill demand and gain high-profit margins, confectioners often resort to using adulterants and low-quality ingredients to prepare sweets. The rising prices of ingredients further tempt small shops to use adulterants. This is unfair to the consumers who splurge on these products in high spirits.
Relished by all, what is Mithai made of?
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) defines Mithais as “Products originating from Indian heritage and culture and may be prepared using a number of ingredients, namely, sugar, jaggery, honey, milk, dry fruits, nuts, cereals and their flour or starch, pulses and their flour, fruits, vegetables, spices, edible vegetable oil, ghee in various forms, styles or consistencies.” All of these ingredients can be adulterated, be it milk, ghee, dry fruits, silver foil, and besan among others. This can play havoc on the health of the unassuming consumer who buys such sweets. Curbing the adulteration of sweets is hence a necessity for safeguarding the health of consumers.
Recent incidents of adulteration in sweets
Recently in Goa, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted surprise raids in sweet shops to ensure that consumers are saved from vendors using unscrupulous means to prepare sweets. Among the items seized were sweets, farsan, chips, and bakery items. The shops were found to be unhygienic and in no possession of an FDA license. Notices were issued to the food business operators and they were directed to stop operations.
To bust the violators before their products, reach consumers, another drive was conducted by FDA at bus stops and railway stations in Mumbai recently. Several wrongly labeled items were recovered. The batches of foods found adulterated were destroyed and FIRs were lodged in a few cases. Large quantities of adulterated mawa were found to be arriving from the neighboring states of Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Ghee was adulterated with vegetable oil to reduce prices. Higher quality oils such as sunflower and groundnut oils were mixed with palm oil. Consumers are deceived when they are made to pay for the higher-priced oils even though the product contains a mix of oils of low and high quality.
Government initiatives to curb the menace
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) takes stringent steps to ensure vigilant checking of sweets during the festive season to prevent vendors from making and selling adulterated sweets. Inoshi Sharma IRS, Executive Director, FSSAI said, “The State/UT Governments are primarily responsible for the enforcement of the FSS Act, 2006 and Regulations thereunder in their respective jurisdictions through the institution of the Commissioner of Food Safety. Regular surveillance and enforcement drives are being undertaken by States/UTs to ensure compliance with Food Safety and Standards Regulations. Besides, special drives during festive seasons are also undertaken to ensure food safety including positioning Food Safety on Wheels to check adulteration of food products in prominent markets.”
She added, “FSSAI has also issued an order dated 20.10.2022 to all the Food Safety Commissioners and Central Licensing Authorities to undertake special drives to check the adulteration of sweets, savories, milk, and milk products during the upcoming festive season.”
Is buying branded sweets an option?
Consumers also have the option to buy packed sweets from branded shops where the products are not made fresh and probably use additives. These include preservatives to increase shelf life, maintain color and keep nutrients intact and anti-fungal agents to prevent fungal growth. Fungicides and chemical preservatives are added to sweets to prevent microbial spoilage. Due to the possibility of these chemicals having adverse effects on human health, FSSAI has set limits on the quantity of these chemicals to be added to sweets. It is the responsibility of manufacturers to adhere to these limits for the safety of consumer health. However, there is no way to check whether these are being followed by non-branded sweet makers.
Consumer vigilance is key
Guiding the consumers on how to make conscious choices while buying sweets this Diwali, Sharma said, “The consumers should check for the FSSAI logo as well as the fourteen-digit license/registration number on the packaged food label, which is a first step towards ensuring the procedural requirements. Besides this, details such as expiry date/use by date, manufacturing date, nutritional information, and list of ingredients may also be read carefully before buying a food product. The license number also needs to be mentioned on the cash memo/invoices/bills by the FBO, which can be checked by the consumer.” She further added that as a consumer, one has certain rights with regard to the food and food products he purchases. All he has to do is to be aware and exercise his rights.
Sharma encouraged the consumers to use the Food Safety Connect App which is a dedicated portal for engaging with consumers to address their grievances related to the quality and safety of food products, know their rights, track Food Business Operators (FBOs) License/Registration Certificate authenticity and view related articles/videos on food safety. Talking about other tools for consumer help, Sharma said, “FSSAI has dedicated email and toll-free helpline numbers to connect with consumers for the resolution of their queries/grievances. Moreover, the FSS Act, 2006 also empowers consumers to have the food product analyzed, in case they have any doubt regarding the quality or safety of the food product.”
Surprise raids, quality checks, and special teams dedicated to the prevention of adulteration will go a long way in gaining the trust of consumers and ensuring that safe food reaches them.
Consumers’ vigilance in their confectionery purchases during the festive season is of utmost importance. Being a conscious and aware consumer will go a long way in preventing such malpractices from dampening the Diwali spirit.