Poison on your plate?
Published on November 1, 2013
DUBAI Sample these…
Three-year-old Angelo Steven Mendoza died within hours after eating a fried corn snack. According to his mother, he was perfectly fine till he ate the snack. “At 3am, we took him to a hospital in Satwa since he was vomiting horribly. Doctors gave him an injection and we returned home. Three hours later, Angelo stopped breathing! We rushed him to Rashid Hospital… but it was too late. My baby was gone forever!” Five-year-old Misha was rushed to the emergency an hour after she had chicken soup. She could hardly breathe, had severe chest pressure, a sudden bout of asthma, epilepsy-like shudders and a terrible headache. Doctors were about to declare her condition a case of juvenile heart attack, when Misha’s mum nervously handed them the half-emptied pack of soup. According to Dr Rahul Anand Nathwani, an American Board Certified Gastroenterologist at the American Medical Centre in Dubai Healthcare City, “The soup contained Monosodium Glutamate, a flavour enhancer used in savoury foods. In children, it can trigger horrific chest pressures, asthma, headaches, and even a terrible feeling of heart attack!” Unlike Angelo, Misha was lucky. She survived. Forty-five year-old Chris Martin vowed never to touch fish, especially seafood, again. A genuine fish freak, Martin took the resolution after he landed in hospital for severe gastro-intestinal disorders. Worse, he went into a tizzy when he learnt that the prawns he devoured so hungrily were stored in formaldehyde — used to preserve dead-bodies — to keep them fresh-looking!
Ten-year-old Anna Francis died of what Dr Anil Kumar V.R., Medical Director of Abu Dhabi’s Ahalia Hospital suspect, was food poisoning. The culprit: Home-made doshas — a south Indian delicacy made from rice. As per Dr Jaya P.S. of Modern Doctors Centre, “Since Anna took freshly cooked doshas, I did not suspect food poisoning.” The fallout: Anna succumbed to the food poison and died. Little did anyone acknowledge that urea (used in rice to make it whiter), along with dust, pebbles, straws and metanil yellow (used in sella rice), contaminate most rice species and their by-products in the world!
Jennie Rostek was rushed to a private hospital in an advanced state of bruised liver and intestinal fissures. The cause? Green peas! “The peeled peas were such an attractive colour of green that I just couldn’t resist.” It took her less than an hour to fall into convulsions with severe tummy aches and blood vomit before she was rushed in. According to her daughter, “I bought another pack of peas, which I soaked in water, and half-an-hour later, I was shocked to see the water green. The peas in the dish were pale white!” Welcome folks to a world where everything you eat is a peril! From fruits and vegetables infested with banned chemicals and noxious colours, to herbs and spices containing human excreta, to even milk having toxic shampoos and lotions, the carcinogenic content in today’s victuals is so high that you may land up risking nervous disorders, brain cysts, epilepsy attacks, blackouts, cancers and even deaths! In fact, urticaria, asthma, diarrhoea, poisoning, intestinal bursts, are some of the few other ailments waiting to be sold off the counter. Says Dr Anand Nathwani, Gastroenterologist, Belhoul European Hospital, Dubai, “Food adulteration may not be the direct assassin. In fact, products processed with toxic elements taste better, appear superior and find their way to markets. But diseases stemming from them have high potential to lead you to slow death.” Dr. Rahul gets close to three food contamination cases a month in Dubai, which he says, “is alarmingly high and worrying as the patient is almost never at fault.” Explains Dr. Paulose Thomas, Nephrologist, Belhoul Speciality Hospital, Dubai, “Adulteration kills you gradually, but incessantly. In fact, food items loaded with heavy metals like lead cause permanent kidney damage, while those with arsenic and mercury cause nerve damage, liver cancer, diabetes, hypertension etc.”
Take milk for instance. It’s often mixed with urea and soap, which is “damaging to both kidney and liver”. Sweets with silver coating (a favourite among kids), “contain lead and aluminium, and may cause chronic kidney and brain damage”. Pointing to the redder than usual chilli powder contaminated with toxins like Sudan I Red and Aflatoxin; the brick, sawdust and excreta mixed cumin powder; chalk powder in sugar and turmeric; stones and crushed sand in pulses; the highly poisonous dhatura (stramonium) in flour; soap stone in asafoetida; and dried papaya seeds in black pepper, Dr. Rahul informs, “Most of these toxins injure intestines, causing stomach and food pipe erosions. Take mustard oil: The highly toxic dhatura in it causes poisoning, body swelling, muscle weakening and sudden
Vitamin B1 and B6 deficiencies. In fact, most oils are adulterated with argemone seeds, resulting in epidemic dropsy.” Moreover, pure butter oil or ghee is a rare commodity in the market. “Traders use animal fat, potato mash, palm and vegetable oils to produce fake butter oil. They even mix soap components like steirian oil with ghee to increase proportions,” Dr Rahul adds. Even honey is adulterated with sugar syrup. In forms Dr Nathwani, “Fruits are ripened artificially using calcium carbide.” A visit to the Abhir fruit and vegetable market says it all. Truckloads of bananas are offloaded at night. As the morning dawns, the load is more visible. They are a deep green in colour and bitter. But by noon, amazingly, these bananas become deep yellow and sweet. As the trucks pull away, an army of workers start spraying the fruits with a medicine that helps them ripen better and get a nice yellow colour.
“Most banana wholesalers use this mode to transform cheaply bought unripe bananas into golden fruits! Calcium carbide is hazardous to health. It contains traces of arsenic and phosphorous. Once dissolved in water, the carbide produces acetylene gas — an analogue of the natural ripening agent ethylene, produced by fruits,” says Dr Rahul. Even water melon is injected with colours and saccharine!
Traces of organo-phosphorus — an insecticide — has also been found in vegetables. Informs Dr. Nathwani, “Benzoates (E210-E219), used in marinated fish, fruit-based fillings, jam, salad creams, soft drinks and beer, provoke urticaria, angioedema, asthma and even childhood hyperactivity.”
“Chemicals like sulphites (E220-E227),” says Dr Rahul, “used in dried fruits, fruit juices, syrups, fruit-based dairy deserts, biscuit dough, cider, beer and wine, and Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA-E320), used in soup mixes and cheese spreads, cause pruritus, urticaria, angioedema and asthma. Nitrates and nitrites (E249-E252), used in bacon, ham, cured meats, corned beef and some cheeses, cause headaches and may even be cancerous.”
In fact, non-vegetarian dishes are the worst hit. Animals are genetically immunised with radiation to increase their sizes. “This is potentially
carsenogenic and can cause cancer,” says Dr Nathwani, adding, “Hens are injected with steroid for more eggs. Uncooked pork results in tapeworms entering the blood stream and thereby causing muscle and intestinal problems and even neurocysticercosis — root cause for epilepsy.” In fact, artificial strawberry drink concentrate contains 50 to 70 chemicals, while a chunk of the soft drink industry uses tartrazine (E102) in their products. “Its adverse reactions (including asthma, urticaria and rhinitis) often come up in subjects sensitive to acetylsalicylic acid (ASA).”
Moreover, escherichia coli (E-coli), salmonella and shigella bacteria are often the result of Dubai’s unhygienic restaurants and street foods. Most restaurants do not throw the leftover oil from everyday cooking, and use it the next day. As a result the peroxide value of the oil rises making it highly toxic. So where does food contamination start? Says Dubai-based horticulturist Steve Mathew, “Food contamination begins at the farmer level itself. With increased pesticides, micro-organisms that add natural fertility to the soil die.” The next level of adulteration of course happens at the industrial level in order to make products look more attractive. According to Abu Dhabi and Dubai Food Control Authorities, widespread use of chemicals is what the officials are combating “at all levels”. Adulterated food is the easiest way to garner quick money. With unscrupulous traders abounding, “a well-oiled nexus of adulteration service providers plague every part of the globe, the UAE being equally-hit,” says an adulteration inspector, requesting anonymity. Reiterates Dr Rahul, “Adulteration is turning out to be a major clinical problem,” emphasising that the long incubation period that adulteration related diseases take, makes it impossible to put a figure to the cases. Substitutes to this plague are few, extremely costly and often bogus. The organic food market — the so-called answer to adulteration — is challenged by shortcomings, stemming mainly from the “ifs and buts” surrounding its authenticity.
1. What efforts should be taken by the government to combat adulteration in food?
2. How can you help curb adulteration in food?
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