The Food Safety Department authorities in Kerala, on Friday, seized a whopping 6000 kg of fish laced with the toxic chemical formalin in Vadakara.
The incident came to light when the truck carrying the fish from Kannur to Kozhikode broke down in Kottakadavu near Vadakara, according to a Manorama report.
The Motor Vehicles Department inspected the truck’s contents when the officials realised that a bad odour was emanating from the truck. On checking, the fish was discovered and a formalin test was done, which revealed that it was contaminated.
“When the tests are done on field and the results are immediate, then the perpetrators can’t escape. This is why it is easy to use the testing strips as once you rub it on the fish and wait, the colour on the strip will reveal the level of toxic formaldehyde in the sample. This can be checked with the chart supplied with the kit,” says Sainuddin, principal scientist at Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT) which supplies kits to different agencies to check for formalin levels in fish.
According to reports, the load consisting of cod fish and king fish came from Nagapattinam in Tamil Nadu and arrived in Kozhikode. It was set to be distributed in a market in Kannur. However, the lot was rejected by the market and the truck was sent back to Kozhikode.
Authorities at the Food Safety Department have confirmed that they would send the load back to where it came from without distributing it to the public.
Over the last two months, several cases of contaminated fish being seized in different parts of Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra have surfaced. Authorities are taking strict measures to curb the use of formaldehyde in fish to preserve them for longer.
What is formalin?
Formalin is derived from formaldehyde, which is a substance that is carcinogenic to humans. Mixed in the right proportion with water, the paste is used for embalming and preventing the decay of dead cells. Formalin ,which contains 37–40% formaldehyde, is used in mortuaries and labs.
Formalin is often used to preserve fish, which is an easily perishable food whose value depends on its freshness. And when fish is imported from another state, to prevent rot during transport, fish traders resort to using formalin, even though formalin consumption is harmful to human beings.
How does formalin affect humans?
There are several risks associated with ingesting formalin – having even 30 ml of a solution, which contains as little as 37% formalin, can kill a fully grown adult. Once ingested, formalin releases toxins into the body, and the sustained ingestion of formalin can eventually lead to cancer.
Breathing even the smallest amount of formaldehyde gas can lead to pneumonia and bronchitis.
If formaldehyde is present in the air at a level more than 0.1 ppm, people could experience a burning sensation in their eyes, nose and throat, apart from coughing and sneezing. They could also experience nausea and skin irritation.
If formalin reaches the stomach, a person could experience stomach ache and nausea. Even if the fish or vegetables treated with formalin are cooked, it doesn’t stop the formalin from releasing the toxins into the body.