1. Home
  2. Blog

The Scary Truth About Adulterated Food You Need to Know!

Food adulteration, whether intentional or incidental, impacts public health and consumer trust, driven by factors such as economic pressures, competition, and inadequate regulation and awareness.

KJ Staff
Image source: Freepik
Image source: Freepik

Food is an integral aspect of life, comprising carbohydrates, water, fats, and proteins essential for human and animal nutrition. It serves as a vital source of nutrients, facilitating growth and maintenance. But with each passing day, the presence of various adulterants leads to improper food, subsequently exposing people to a range of diseases. Adulteration of food refers to the act of intentionally degrading the quality of food by either adding, substituting, or removing the food substances with alternative components. This is usually done to lower the cost or increase the bulk of a given food product. The practice has been a major concern among consumers due to its adverse impacts on economics, health, religious beliefs, and legal compliance.

Types of Adulteration

1. Intentional:

It involves the deliberate contamination of food items with inferior substances. These adulterants can be either physical or biological. The purpose is to enhance essential nutrient levels after reducing costs, thereby increasing profit margins. Various chemicals like urea and melamine are used for this purpose, along with substances such as starch, flour, cane sugar, vegetable oil, water, skim milk, sand, chalk powder, molasses, stone, brick powder, ergot, chicory, roasted barley powder, etc., which are added to various items to increase their volume. This form of adulteration is most dangerous due to the reduction of essential nutrients.

2. Incidental:

Accidental adulteration, also known as incidental adulteration, involves unintentional contamination of food. Examples include pesticide residues, the presence of rodents or larvae in food products, and unintentional metallic contamination with substances like arsenic, lead, and mercury. Among the most prevalent accidental adulterants are pesticides, D.D.T., and residues found on plant products.

Foods and drinks are adulterated for the following six reasons:

  1. When market demand exceeds supply.

  2. To remain competitive in the market by reducing production costs.

  3. The greed for increased profit margins.

  4. Financial inability of consumers to purchase food items with their original ingredients.

  5. Lack of trained manpower with outdated food processing techniques.

  6. No awareness about disease outbreaks resulting from adulterated food products.

Commonly Adulterated Foods

If we look at and analyze the data on adulteration, it becomes evident that nearly all types of food products are adulterated, sparing no category. However, the nature of adulteration may vary across states or regions. Certain regions may experience higher adulteration rates for specific food items due to their popularity in those areas.

Moreover, the frequency of certain adulterants may be higher in regions due to their affordability and accessibility. For example, in a state where groundnut oil is the most consumed oil, it is likely to be the most frequently adulterated. Commonly consumed foods are often among those found to be adulterated:

  • Food Grains - wheat, rice, pulses and their products like wheat flour, semolina (suji), gram flour (besan), etc.

  • Spices - whole and ground, like red chili powder, turmeric and coriander powder, saffron, etc.

  • Edible oils and fats - groundnut oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, mustard oil, vanaspati, etc.

  • Milk and milk products - milk powder, butter, ghee, khoa, sweets

  • Coffee, tea

  • Sweetening agents - sugar, honey, gur

  • Non-alcoholic beverages - aerated drinks, squashes, juices, etc.  

It is crucial to recognize that food adulteration can occur at any stage within the food supply chain. The stages of the food chain typically include primary production, primary food processing, secondary food processing, food distribution, food retailing, and food catering.

Some Familiar Adulterants

Food items

Adulterants detected

 Edible oils

Castor oil, mineral oil, argemone oil, triorthocresyl phosphate, oil–soluble colors, aflatoxin, pesticide residues, and cheaper vegetable oils.


Non-permitted colors, mineral oil coating, husk, starch, foreign seeds/resins, extraneous matter, exhausted spices

Non-alcoholic beverages

Saccharin, dulcin, brominated vegetable oils, non-permitted colors, excess permitted color.

Ghee and vanaspati

Extraneous colors, animal body fat, hydrogenated vegetable oils, excessive moisture.

Milk powder

Pesticide residues, sugar, starch, fat deficiency, excessive moisture.


Antibiotic residues, formalin, boric acid, pesticide residues, neutralizers like sodium bicarbonate, urea, water, sugar, starch, foreign fat, ammonium sulphate, cellulose


Date or tamarind seeds, artificial color.


Colour, iron filings, foreign leaves, exhausted leaves

Pulses and their products like besan

Lathyrus sativus, Vicia sativa, artificial colors, talc, foreign starch, extraneous matter.

Cereals and their products like maida, suji, flour

Fungal infestation, pesticide residues, sand, dirt, foreign starch, powdered chalk, iron filings, aflatoxins, and insect damage.


Ways to Check Adulterated Food

  • The consumer can easily be aware of the food they are consuming and look for food or drink they bought is healthy to consume or not by simple steps.

  • FSSAI has released a booklet called ‘Detect Adulteration with Rapid Test (DART)’ which covers more than 50 common quick tests for the detection of food adulterants in households by the citizens themselves to induce awareness among the consumers about food safety. DART book is available on the website of FSSAI.

  • FSSAI has also introduced a policy for the adoption of Rapid Analytical Food Testing (RAFT) Kit/Equipment/Method for regulatory purposes.

How to Put Complaints Regarding Adulteration

When a food article is found to be adulterated there is a 3-tier complaint redressal system:

  • The initial tier involves the shopkeeper or manufacturer from where a consumer has purchased food or drink for consumption.

  • 2nd tier is the Local Health Authority of the District or Commissioner of Food Safety of the State/ Union Territory.

  • 3rd tier is Consumer Forum.

  • Additionally, consumers have the option to file complaints via an online portal called "the Advertising Standards Council of India."

Penalties for Adulteration of Food:

  • When any manufacturer sales, distributes, imports, or stores any food article that is adulterated, he will be liable under section 16 of the Prevention of Food Adulteration (PFA) Act, 1954, and will also be punished with imprisonment of 6 months and with a fine of rupees 1000 under section 272 of IPC for selling of adulterated food or drink which are hazardous for health consumption.

  • The punishment could also extend depending on the grievousness of the act done by the manufacturer or vendor.

Take this quiz to know more about radish Take a quiz
Share your comments
FactCheck in Agriculture Project

Subscribe to our Newsletter. You choose the topics of your interest and we'll send you handpicked news and latest updates based on your choice.

Subscribe Newsletters