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22% of pani puri samples in Karnataka unsafe, say food safety authorities

The Food Safety and Standards Authority in Karnataka revealed that 22% of 260 pani puri samples collected across the state contained harmful food colouring agents and fell short of safety standards.

India’s beloved pani puri has come under the scanner of the Food Safety and Standards Authority (FSSA) in Karnataka, after it was found that the popular street snack often contains harmful artificial colouring agents and falls short of safety standards. Reports state that artificial colours and carcinogenic agents were found in 41 out of the 260 samples collected from vendors, and that 18 other samples were unfit for human consumption owing to their poor quality. The much loved dish reportedly came under scrutiny following numerous complaints expressing concern over its preparation. 

The chemicals found in the food item as per the FSSA report were Brilliant Blue FCF, Tartrazine, and Sunset Yellow FCF. Dr Vishal Rao, Dean of the Centre for Academic Research, told the Deccan Herald that regular consumption of these chemicals can cause a wide range of health issues, from stomach problems to cardiac diseases. The usage of such chemicals also offer zero benefits other than making the food visually appealing, he said.

The Minister of Health and Family Welfare in Karnataka, Dinesh Gundu Rao, said more analysis is being done on the carcinogenic elements found in pani puri, and the the Department of Health will take appropriate action after the final report. He also urged the public to exercise caution while consuming food from outside.

FSSA officials also collected shawarma samples from 10 districts across the state, and reported that eight out of 17 samples were contaminated with unhealthy bacteria and yeast, which can result in severe health issues. “Action will be taken against restaurants that are not following the safety standards,” a senior FSSA official told the Times of India. 

Based on these reports, a team from the Food Safety Department in Chennai, led by Designated Officer (DO) P Sathish Kumar, conducted raids on 58 chaat shops and street vendors across the district, including 10 shops situated in Marine Drive. They said that samples of the sauce and masala used in the preparation of the dishes have been taken for testing. They also took note of the unhygienic nature of preparation, the DO told the media, adding that they “saw vendors dipping their hands into the sauce container.”

The DO urged people to look out for hygiene practices, besides directing vendors to wear gloves instead of cracking the puri with their bare hands. Separate ladles and spoons should be used to pour the sauce and add the masala, he said, and added that pani puri should also be served on disposable plates.

Sathish Kumar spoke of plans to train vendors to ensure that the required standard is maintained across the district. “We will call them in area and ward-wise batches,” he said.

He also stated that the department is set to conduct similar raids on at least 700 such vendors in the next 2-3 days, and test the samples collected from these vendors for substances that are harmful to humans. The department also has plans to keep track of shops selling street food in the city. 

Both Karnataka and Tamil Nadu had recently banned the use of Rhodamine - B in food items following reports that stated that it is harmful to humans. The substance was popularly used by vendors as a result of its low cost and role in making food items like cotton candy and gobi manchurian more visually appealing. A lack of regulatory measures meant that the use of such substances often went undetected.

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