Excessive lead found in 39 of 73 chilli, turmeric brands

Emran Hossain | Published: 00:00, Oct 17,2019


Out of  73 samples of chilli and turmeric powder 39 contained lead residues at levels more than permissible, lab tests by the  Bangladesh Food Safety Authority done between August and September showed.

The permissible level of lead in spices is 0.4 mg per kg but in one sample, the BFSA found 37.29 mg of lead per kg that is 93 times the permissible limit. 

In September, two researches, jointly done by the icddr,b and Stanford University, USA, found artificially coloured turmeric that increased lead  in the blood of children and pregnant women in several areas of Bangladesh.

The studies found the presence of lead in turmeric samples, both powder and finger 500 times the permissible level. 

‘We will officially release our findings very soon,’ BFSA chairman Syeda Sarwar Jahan told New Age Wednesday.

The BFSA got the samples tested at the laboratory of Bangladesh Atomic Energy Commission amid growing evidences from independent researches that spices, an essential part of traditional Bangla cuisine, are largely adulterated or contaminated by heavy metals and textile colours.

The BFSA tested samples of turmeric and dried chilli powders collected from different shops in the capital and the port city of Chattogram.

The recently published icddr,b researches said spice merchants have been applying lead chromate, a textile dye, to artificially brighten turmeric at least since 1988.

Former director of Dhaka University’s Biochemical Research Centre professor ABM Faroque told New Age that the presence of lead in dried chilli powder might not be intentional.

Contaminated soil, adulterated fertilisers and pesticides could be a potential source of lead residues in dried chilli powder, he said.

Research led by Faroque between August 2018 and February 2019 found widespread adulteration in all the samples of spices, cooking  oil, milk and milk products.

Metanil Yellow, a textile colour, was found in turmeric samples. The samples of turmeric and chilli powders also contained excessive moisture.

The Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution said in May that it had found lead and other impurities in popular brands of  turmeric, chilli and cumin powders.

Bangladesh meets two  thirds of its turmeric demand and three fourths of its demand for chilli through imports.

It is believed that besides local spice merchants tampering with qualities of spices Bangladesh also imports impure spices from India and other countries.

In developed countries there is separate mechanisms to free the imported stuff from impurities, which is completely absent in Bangladesh.

In 2015, the Institute of Public Health detected Sudan Red, a dye, in samples of loose chilli powder sold in the market. 

The World Health Organisation banned the use of Sudan Dye in the 1960 for its potential carcinogenicity. But its presence continued to be found in chilli powder in Bangladesh time and again.

In 2006-7, Denmark found the presence of Sudan Red in chilli powders exported by Bangladesh. Similar detection was reported by the Middle Eastern countries as well.

The National Food Safety Laboratory’s technical head Shahnila Ferdousi told New Age that chemicals get accumulated in liver and kidney ultimately affecting their health over time.

‘It could cause cancer or liver or kidney failure,’ said Shahnila.  

Lead is not the only source of worry plaguing the food chain. Different studies detected cadmium in poultry meat, rice and other food items.

Marketing of pasteurized milk was suspended for 48 hours in July after widespread contamination was found in it.

In February, the IPH raised the alarm about serious microbial, chemical, residual, heavy metal and other contaminations in raw and packaged cow milk, curd and fodder.

A Dhaka University team of researchers in June found impurities and contamination in samples of several popular brands of ghee, fruit drinks, pepper powder, turmeric power, palm oil, mustard oil, soya bean oil and pasteurised and raw milk. 

In 2018, the BFSA said that it found excessive lead in samples of imported powdered milk, consumed by children, the elderly and patients.

Dhaka University’s Institute of Nutrition and Food Science professor Khaleda Islam said that lead consumption would hamper neurological development of babies in the womb.

‘Lead in blood is responsible for causing anaemia as well,’ she said.

Anaemic people get exhausted easily and cannot work for long, said health experts.

They quickly lose their interest in work and have shorter work life spans than the healthy individuals, they said.

Anaemia is a major public health concern in Bangladesh, with at least 60 per cent of the mothers suffering from the health complications. Almost a similar percentage of males also suffer from the disease.

Bangladesh Agricultural University Food Technology and Rural Industries professor Mohammad Gulzarul Aziz said that food adulteration and contamination persisted through gaps in the food chain which could be plugged through researches.

‘We need to act fast to find out the gaps to save public health,’ said Gulzar.

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