Carcinogen in Pani Puri: Karnataka food safety check unravels shocking reality

While artificial colors used in street foods make them look more appetising, they can cause a range of health issues, say studies.

ByChetana Belagere

Published Jun 29, 2024 | 5:31 PM Updated Jun 29, 2024 | 5:31 PM

Carcinogen in Pani Puri: Karnataka food safety check unravels shocking reality

Love Pani Puri? Think again! The vibrant colors that make your favorite street snack so enticing might be hiding a dangerous secret.

Karnataka’s Department of Food Safety and Quality extended its scrutiny to pani puri vendors after gobi manchurians and kebabs and found widespread use of carcinogenic chemicals in their sauce and sweet chilli powder.

In a bold move to protect public health, the Karnataka government has banned artificial additives in street food, including the hazardous synthetic colors.

Taking to X on Saturday, Karnataka Health Minister Dinesh Gundu Rao said, Samples of panipuri were collected from various locations across the state and some have failed safety tests conducted by the Food Safety Department.

“We found them to be unsafe for regular consumption due to the presence of of carcinogenic ingredients. The government will take decision action to ban any unsafe ingredients used in food items and implement strict laws to ensure compliance,” he said.

He warned that violators would be strictly punished. The minister also stressed that food and lifestyle choices significantly impact one’s health and urged everyone to be mindful of what they eat and to prioritise food safety and quality.

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Dangers of synthetic colours

Synthetic colors are often used in street foods to enhance their visual appeal. The vibrant green hue of the tangy water in Pani Puri, for instance, is sometimes achieved using artificial dyes.

While these colors make the food look more appetising, they come with significant health risks. Studies have shown that synthetic food colors can cause a range of health issues.

These include the following:

Allergic reactions: Some synthetic colors, such as Tartrazine (Yellow No. 5) and Sunset Yellow (Yellow No. 6), can trigger allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, leading to symptoms like hives, itching, and swelling.

Hyperactivity in children: Research has linked certain synthetic colors to increased hyperactivity and behavioral issues in children. These colors can affect attention span and impulse control, impacting a child’s overall development.

Potential carcinogenic effects: Prolonged consumption of synthetic colors has raised concerns about their carcinogenic potential. Although conclusive evidence is still lacking, some studies suggest that long-term exposure to these additives may increase the risk of cancer.

Digestive problems: Synthetic colors can cause digestive discomfort, including stomach cramps, nausea, and diarrhea, particularly in individuals with sensitive stomachs.

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Karnataka’s proactive approach

In response to these growing concerns, the health department and the food safety department conducted a proactive survey. In Bengaluru alone, according to reports, there were 19 out of 45 samples in which synthetic colours were present.

Complete ban on artificial additives in street food will be implemented soon, said the minister in his post on X.

This will include a prohibition on synthetic colors in Pani Puri and other popular snacks. The ban aims to ensure that street food vendors adhere to safer practices and use natural ingredients to prepare their offerings.

Earlier in March, the state government had imposed a ban on Rhodamine-B, a commonly used food colouring agent, in gobi manchurian, kebab and even cotton candy.

Dr Arun Gupta, renowned paediatrician and Convenor of Nutrition Advocacy in Public Interest (NAPi)–a national think-tank on nutrition appreciated the Karnataka government for the ban on artificial colours in Kebabs.

He suggested that it should be extended to all food products as these can only cause harm.

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The road to compliance

While the ban is a welcome move, its implementation poses challenges, said Malini G Suresh, homemaker and street food lover.

She said that street food vendors, many of whom operate on thin margins, may find it difficult to transition to natural colorants due to cost and availability.

“Panipuri, gobi manchurian, cotton candy, kebabs on roadsides are all our favourites! We as family relish these during our evening walks. It was so concerning to know about the use of such synthetic colours and carcinogenic substances in it,” she continued.

“Now, we have stopped eating out. Vendors should be made aware about its dangers and implementation of the ban should be checked on regular basis,”Malini said.

However, the government has pledged support to help vendors comply with the new regulations. Training programs and subsidies for natural colorants are being introduced to ease the transition.

(Edited by Shauqueen Mizaj)

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