Vol. 5 Num 371 Mon. June 13, 2005  
Front Page

Eating dangerously
Showcased sweetmeats not what they seem

Rasogolla, Kalojaam, Chamcham, Jilapi, Paantoa, Shandesh, Mihidana, khirsa -- these are the essential delicacies for all festivals in Bengali culture.

But food and sanitation officers from the Dhaka City Corporation (DCC) say most of these mouthwatering sweetmeats, despite looking attractive in the showcase, are made with adulterated ingredients and produced in a filthy environment.

In a survey conducted in February, DCC officials found that 100 percent of examined samples of Rasogolla, Kalojaam, curds, and Sandhes were adulterated.

Consumers, when recently told about the findings, expressed a combination of surprise and alarm. "The government should check the quality of those sweetmeats immediately. There should be a mechanism to monitor the process," said Bibhash Das, a resident of the Old Dhaka.

Some owners of high-end sweetmeat shops admitted that a portion of sweetmeat traders make their sweets with the adulterated ingredients.

"Some small traders may make their product with impure ingredients. But we have invested a lot in our business and we can not take that risk," said one sweetmeat trader, who has many shops in the city and claimed his products are made of fresh ingredients.

According to the pure food ordinance 1959, at least 10 percent milk fat is mandatory in sweetmeat. But in most cases, the percentage of milk fat is not more than five percent, the sources said.

Concerned sources added that most sweetmeats in the country, including Dhaka City, are made with adulterated posset the main ingredient in sweetmeats - saccharin, flour and toxic colouring. Traders also use soybean oil and vegetable oil instead of milk fat.

In most cases, sweetmeat producers use toxic colouring instead of food colouring, which may cause diseases like cancer and kidney damages if regularly ingested.

Some sweetmeat makers from rural areas are unaware of the existence of food colouring and use only toxic colouring in their products, said one food officer.

In Dhaka City, famous sweetmeats brought from various parts of the country have been selling fast thanks to well-financed advertisement campaigns. Among these are Porabarir Chamcham, curds from Bogra, Rosagolla from Jessore, monda from Muktagachha, and Rosomalai from Comilla.

In most cases, these sweetmeat are not what they seem, a recent field visit found.

A huge share of the milk and posset, the essential ingredients in sweetmeat, arrive to the city mostly by launch. A recent visit to Sadarghat found that traders bring milk in unclean drums, placing unclean hyacinth on top of the milk to ensure that it does not spill when the launch vibrates.

A source from the Consumers Association of Bangladesh (CAB) said that posset makers in different parts of the country put sulfuric acid in hot milk to produce the posset quickly. According to the sources, the posset makers first put the paste of ground rice into the milk, followed by sulfuric acid to turn the milk in to posset within minutes.

Adulterated posset mostly comes from Barisal, Chandpur, Munshiganj, Shariatpur, arriving wrapped in unclean dirty cloths on the deck of the launches.

There are more than 1000 sweetmeat shops In Dhaka, but only 20 food and sanitary inspectors to ensure the quality of food for more than twelve million people. In the other districts, there is nobody to do this job.

Food analysts from the department of health are tasked with examining samples of sweetmeats from different shops. Concerned officials from the department of the Dhaka City Corporation can then file a case if they detect adulteration.

If proven, punishments range from Tk 100 to Tk 1,000 in fines, in addition to one month to six months jail time. But sources say it takes so much time and money to prove a case that DCC officials generally do not file them.

As a result, city dwellers are eating adulterated sweetmeats without knowing what dangers lurk inside these much loved delicacies.

Milk carried in the most unhygienic manner is supplied to sweetmeat shops in Dhaka, posing serious health hazard. PHOTO: STAR