Alert! Eating your favourite snack in newspaper could lead to slow poisoning
Doctors say that eating street food that has come in contact with newspapers could have severe health implications in the long run—primarily due to the printing ink, which seeps into the hot eatables that eventually land up in our digestive system. Pic: PTI

Alert! Eating your favourite snack in newspaper could lead to slow poisoning

For the working class, there is no greater joy than sharing a plate of hot bhajia or vada pav with colleagues during a short break from work. The chutney on the side — seeping into the newspaper on which the hot, food items are served — is tempting too. But little do they realise that the newspaper used by the roadside vendor to serve food, can cause them serious health ailments in the long run.

The vendors not only use newspapers to serve freshly fried food items, but also to wrap takeaway food. It is also a common practice to soak excess oil off the food before serving it.

Doctors, however, say that eating street food that has come in contact with newspapers could have severe health implications in the long run—primarily due to the printing ink, which seeps into the hot eatables that eventually land up in our digestive system.

Last week, the Food and Drug (FDA) in Maharashtra issued an order asking food vendors not to wrap food items in newspapers. The FDA warned the vendors about the harmful health effects of newspaper ink and directed vendors to refrain from what is a common practice among them. It also warned them of strict action in case of violation.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had banned use of newspapers for wrapping, serving, and packaging of food items back in 2016. The rule came into effect from July 2019. Then Union Minister of Health and Family Welfare J P Nadda directed FSSAI to implement the rule strictly. Food vendors though seem to have no clue about it. In Maharashtra, stall owners carelessly wrap vada pav, samosas and other eatables in newspapers.

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The FSSAI had asked the food safety commissioners of all states and Union Territories to take steps to ensure compliance. “Older people, teenagers, children, and people with compromised vital organs and immune systems are at a greater risk of acquiring cancer-related health complications if they are exposed to food packed in such materials,” stated FSSAI. “Newspapers should not be used to wrap, cover and serve food or to absorb excess oil from fried food. There is an urgent need to create awareness among businesses, especially, unorganized food business operators and consumers,” the FSSAI added.

The statutory body had pointed out that newspaper ink may contain harmful pigments, colors, additives, preservatives—and even pathogenic microorganisms—that could adversely affect one’s health if consumed orally. “Indians are being slowly poisoned due to newspapers being widely used as a food packaging material by small hotels, vendors and also in homes in lieu of absorbent paper,” stated FSSAI, adding that not only newspapers but even recycled paper or cardboard boxes may be contaminated with harmful chemicals like phthalates which could cause digestive problems. “Wrapping food in newspapers is an unhealthy practice and the consumption of such food is injurious to health, even if the food is cooked hygienically.”

The FDAs of different states have gone on to issue advisories asking street vendors and corner shops to refrain from selling food items in newspapers. Despite several warnings, the practice remains as widespread as ever.

A research paper published in January too supports the FSSAI’s claim. “Contamination of food indicates the appearance of harmful chemical and infectious microorganisms that can influence unfavorable effects on human health,” the researchers noted. “The ink used to print the newspaper consist of components such as Lead, Naphthylamines aromatic hydrocarbon, and AhR (aryl hydrocarbon receptor) agonist that cause major well-being implications such as neurotoxicity, cardiovascular diseases, kidney diseases, various cancer, liver failure, lung damages, weak bones and even death in cases of extremely high contagion,” the research read.

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The researchers said that the chemical components in inks transfer from food packaging material to the food during stacking and storing. “Naphthylamine and aromatic hydrogen and carbon compounds are significant polluters that may enter human body through newspaper ink,” they stated.

“Food companies, street vendors, food regulators, or whoever uses the newspaper for packaging the food need to enhance food safety by using the best packaging material. Do not use newspapers to pack, wrap, or help the food or remove extra oil from deep-fried food,” the research further stated.

Speaking with The Federal, an FDA official in Maharashtra said: “The printing ink contains a chemical called di-isobutyl phthalate which targets and affects the internal organs of the body. The effects are not immediate…but develop over a span of time.”

On the flip side, banning newspaper use as wrapping or serving material for food items could also affect the livelihood of street vendors at large—and force them to hike food prices—which, in turn, would mean that customers will have to pay more. As an after effect of the Maharashtra FDA’s order last week, many small-scale vendors in Pune switched to using blank, white paper—which is more expensive than old newspapers bought in bulk from scrap dealers.

Mahesh Chavan, secretary of small-scale food vendors association in Pune, stated that more than 2,000 small food vendors daily use newspapers for food wrapping. “Using white paper leaves us with no option but to increase food rates,” he said.

The FDA official rubbished the claim that not using newspapers would lead to increase in food prices. “Every roadside food stall or small vendor has tissue papers—they can serve the food on them. We have to educate them (vendors) about this so that they can start a practice of using paper plates, disposable plates, and tissue papers for serving and packing food items,” the official said.

Dr. Kalyan Munde, who works with the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC), says that the printing ink used in newspapers may also at times contain some heavy metals which the human body is unable to digest. “If a person eats food items from newspapers over a prolonged period of time, it is bound to have a detrimental effect on their health. Nothing will happen if a person eats bhajia or vada once or twice…but if eaten from newspapers for several months on end, the person may exhibit symptoms of food poisoning. It may also affect the functioning of kidneys, as well as a contamination of the digestive tract,” Dr Munde said.

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