Common Adulterants

Food, as we all know, is the basic source of energy for human beings. A day without food and by the evening our body starts to protest via dropping feelers like acidity, headaches, lethargy, etc. Proper intake of food should ideally help us gain all the vital nutrients, minerals and vitamins that body requires. A healthy life style can lead to a perfect balance between our body and thus, our mind.

However, adulteration is steadily becoming a common norm in food products. So what is Adulteration? It is basically inclusion or exclusion of foreign substances to or from food so that it’s natural nutrient or quality levels becomes compromised. This is done solely for lucrative monetary benefits, while nonchalantly ignoring the numerous risks and harmful effects it can arise on people consuming such food products.

There are various types of Adulteration which are commonly practised in India. They are categorized in to the following:
1. Incidental: Excreta of mice, larvae of insects, pesticide residuals.
2. Intentional: Stones, talc, chalk powder, sand, harmful chemicals like colour.
3. Metallic: Sewage from industries, chemical elements such as arsenic, minerals like lead.

The commonly adulterated food products are milk, edible oils, bakery items, fruits and vegetables, dairy products, condiments, tea, baby food, coffee, pulses, baking powder, vinegar, curry powder, Atta (Flour), confectionary and non - alcoholic beverages.

Economical Adulteration: Often, the vital constituents of food are replaced or degraded in whole or a part (example: Tea Tree oil being added to increase the volume of Olive oil) to increase the overall density of the food product; or to make it appear big or conceal the inferior quality/damage caused in any manner. The most common example of such practices are fruits. They are filled with colours to hide their defects and get a better selling price, which in turn, damages it nutrient quotient. There are known cases where petroleum-based wax is coated on apples to improve visual freshness. A simple rubbing of apple on a cotton cloth will help you peel of this wax. Such apples will do exactly opposite of what they are supposed to do, take you to the nearest doctor!

Irrelevant and Foreign Matter: Any contaminated substances or objectionable materials which do not form a part in the acceptable food consumption are irrelevant matters which commonly include impurities (examples: rot, mold, excreta); unnecessary parts of plant materials (examples: bark, stems, pits in pitted olives) or any foreign bodies (examples: cigarette butts, stones, wood, plastic, wood, metal).

Poisonous Substances: Usually there are standards set for allowing acceptable amounts of poisonous substances and if they are breached over a designated limit, the adulterated food is deemed unsafe for consumption. Elements added in food which can cause harmful effects or injuries to our bodies are due to poisonous substances added in food. The most common example is apple cider being contaminated with dangerous E. coli O157:H7.

Microbiological contamination: Food containing pathogens (virus, bacteria or protozoa) may or may not render it as adulterated. For instant ready-to-eat food products, inclusion of pathogens will conclude the food products as adulterated. For example Salmonella being found in host of poultry products; luncheon meat products or even fruits can be labelled adulterated.

Common man is for most of the part, kept in the dark of the degrading levels of food quality and assurance standards. Industry standards such as AGMARK, FPO mark, India still does not counter act the fact that food products still have traces of adulteration. The recent ban of EU on Indian mangoes goes on to prove that. It is increasingly becoming a menace for public health. Adding synthetic colours, chemicals not fit for consumption is commonly added to retain the ideal colour and odour of food products. So we as responsible citizens should be aware of the on goings of adulteration market practices rampantly followed.

Adulteration in food is present in its most crude form. Prohibited substances are either added partly or substituted wholly. The contamination/adulteration is done either for financial benefits or carelessness and lack of proper conditions for processing, storing, transportation and marketing. It ultimately results in consumer being either cheated or often become victim of substandard food consumption resulting in deficiencies and diseases. However, adequate precautions taken at the time of purchase of such produce can make consumer alert to avoid procurement of such food items. It is equally important for the consumer to know the common adulterants and their effect on health.


S.No Food Article Adultration
1 Vegetable oil Castor oil
    Argemone oil
2 Ghee Mashed Potato/Sweet Potato
    Rancid stuff (old ghee)
    Synthetic Colouring Matter
3 Honey Invert sugar/Jaggery
4 Pulses/Besan Kesari dal(Lathyrus sativus)
5 Pulses Metanil Yellow(dye)
    Lead Chromate
6 Bajra Ergot infested Bajra
7 Wheat flour Excessive sand & dirt
    Excessive bran
    Chalk powder
8 Common spices like Turmeric, chilly, curry powder,etc. Colour
9 Black Pepper Papaya seeds/light berries, etc.
10 Spices(Ground) Powdered bran and saw dust
11 Coriander powder Dung powder
    Common salt
12 Chillies Brick powder grit, sand, dirt, filth, etc.
13 Badi Elaichi seeds  Choti Elaichi seeds
14 Turmeric Powder Starch of maize, wheat, tapioca, rice
15 Turmeric Lead Chromate
    Metanil Yellow
Cumin seeds (Black jeera)
Grass seeds coloured with charcoal dust
17 Asafoetida(Heeng) Soap stone, other earthy matter
18 Foodgrains Hidden insect infestation


Selection of wholesome and non-adulterated food is essential for daily life to make sure that such food items do not cause any health hazard. It is not possible to categorise wholesome food only by visual examination when the toxic contaminants are present in part per million levels. However, visual examination of the food before purchase ensures absence of insects, visual fungus, large foreign objects etc. Therefore, due care taken by the consumer at the time of purchase of food after thoroughly examining can be of great help. Secondly, label declaration on packed food is very important for knowing the ingredients and nutritional value. It also helps in checking the freshness of the food item and the safe period of use which is commonly known as “best before” date or month. Consumers should avoid taking food from an unhygienic place and food being prepared under unhygienic conditions. Such types of food may cause various diseases. Consumption of cut fruits being sold in unhygienic conditions should be avoided. It is always better to buy certified food from reputed shop.