Andhra Pradesh seems to be plagued by a new problem - adulterated chilli powder.
On Friday, authorities in the state addressed the media, and said that a crackdown on adulterated chilli powder by the Commissionerate of Food Safety (CFS) found a total of 3.09 tonnes or 3,000 kg of misleading or falsely-labelled product in just the last few weeks.
These packets were not only harmful, but extremely dangerous and a threat to public health safety, authorities said.
A total of 3.09 tonnes of misleading or falsely-labelled chilli powder was seized.
To highlight the severity of the problem, State Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas held up two bottles at the media gathering, one with authentic chilli powder and one with a fake one.
"They both look exactly the same. No one can tell the difference. Even I canâ€™t tell the difference," he said.
"We first came to know that this is being done, when we conducted a raid on November 7, in which it was found that some accused were labeling this adulterated powder as 'chilli powder' and storing it in cold storage," Samuel Anand Kumar, Commissioner, Health & Family Welfare told TNM.
How is it made?
The source of this adulterated chilli powder was traced to Telangana's Khammam district.
"There are two main chemicals - red oxide and Rhodamine-B. When Rhodamine-B is mixed with water, it creates this red coloured chemical, which can be mixed with a certain powder, to create a product that looks exactly like chilli powder. Red Oxide is also added in some cases," says Kumar.
Kumar says that while most cases they found were partially adulterated powder, there were also a few cases where the entire product was adulterated.
"There was a company in Mudigonda, which sold the residual material and other by products after the extraction of oil from chilli, to the accused, who then sold these to traders in Guntur. Most of the adulterated products were packed and marked as Chilli Powder, when they were shifted to cold storage," he adds.
According to a report in TNIE, the company has been identified as Chenguang Bio Tech Pvt Ltd, who were releasing the by products with the condition that they should not be used for human and animal consumption since the adulterant is toxic.
Two days ago, the Mudigonda police arrested seven people on charges of selling the residual material to gangs involved in adulteration of chilli powder in Andhra Pradesh.
Can we tell the difference?
Officials say that it is almost impossible to tell the difference unless the product is clinically tested, as they look exactly the same.
This makes it even more dangerous, as it is difficult to identify.
What are the harmful effects?
"The chemicals will cause respiratory problems, and other gastro-intestinal problems if consumed. It affects your lungs really bad," Kumar says.
Kumar also says that there are other challenges that the department faces.
"We are understaffed. The department has only 38 members, out of which there are only 28 official Food Safety Officers, with the power to raid and seize across the state," he says.
"After the Guntur raid, when we came to know that it must be happening on a larger scale, so we rounded up the entire department, spoke to the Collector to arrange some extra staff and formed 20 teams," he adds.
The officials then went on to raid several manufacturing units and cold storage units in the last week of November, following which they found large scale adulteration.
"As of now, we have taken 98 samples after inspecting 50 manufacturing units inspected, 71 cold storage, and six wholesale dealers," he adds.
Meanwhile, the state government has said that it is planning to recruit more officials, and also promised strict action against the accused.
â€śWe will bring to book those who are resorting to the adulteration of chilli powder. We will register criminal cases against them so that will receive the harshest punishment,â€ť State Health Minister Kamineni Srinivas was quoted as saying.