CHENNAI: If you are about to squeeze the oil out of a bajji at a roadside stall with a piece of newspaper, stop. Use of newspapers to wrap, pack or serve food is common in India. But the country’s top food safety authority has now drawn public attention to its dangers.
The Food Safety and Standard Authority of India (FSSAI) has issued a country-wide advisory, raising an alarm over the harmful effects of the printing ink that may get absorbed in food. The newspapers have harmful pigments and binders. Used papers poses the threat of containing harmful microorganisms too.
“There is an urgent need to discourage the use of newspaper by creating an awareness,” the advisory stated.
While newspapers can harm, even cardboard boxes made of recycled paper are a no-no as it may be contaminated by carcinogens, toxic metals like lead, mineral oils or harmful chemicals such as phthalate which can cause digestive problems.
Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare Jagat Prakash Nadda tweeted, “I request public to dissuade the vendors from using newspapers in packing and serving food.”
There is yet no ban on use of newspapers and recycled cardboard for packing food. “Right now there is no penalty. The point is to create an awarenes. Eventually a ban maybe imposed,” said Dr B Vasu Kumar, director and additional commissioner of food safety, Chennai. He added that vendors should go back to using leaves for serving food.
Vendors are unhappy. “Leaves are expensive. Round-cut plantain leaf costs Rs 3 a plate. A dhonnai (cup made of dried leaves) is Rs 1.50. For a Rs 5 bonda, we can’t buy a Rs 3 leaf,” said Dhanalaxmi, a street food vendor. She added, “Hotels pack hot food in polythene bags that melt. Sweet shops use cardboard boxes lined with wax. Unless the Government subsidises clean packing material, we can’t run our business.”