Beware of Formalin in Fish: Detect it First then Consume

Something is fishy in the sale of Fish detected with the formalin in Kerala. A major fish-eating state, Kerala consumes 2,500 tonne of fish daily. Since domestic supply caters to 60 percent of its needs, there is a heavy dependence on other states. To meet the growing demand, the state fisheries department has started inland aquaculture and cage farming in a big way, but these measures are yet to reduce meet the consumption demand.

In absence of the refrigerated trucks and the nature of fish to get Fresh fish and shellfish are highly perishable products due to their biological composition. Under normal refrigerated storage conditions, the shelf life of these products is limited by enzymatic and microbiological spoilage. However, with increasing consumer demands for fresh products with extended shelf life and increasing energy costs associated with freezing and frozen storage, the fish‐processing industry is actively seeking alternative methods of shelf life preservation and marketability of fresh, refrigerated fish and at the same time economizing on energy costs.

Additional methods that could fulfill these objectives include chemical decontamination, low‐dose irradiation, ultra‐high pressure, and modified atmosphere packaging (MAP). This review focuses on the biochemical and microbiological composition of fresh fish/shellfish, the spoilage patterns in these products, factors influencing spoilage, and the combination treatments that can be used in conjunction with refrigeration to extend the shelf life and keeping quality of fresh fish/shellfish. 

Both fresh and frozen fish are perishable. The consumer recognizes quality; therefore, it behooves the industry to market the highest quality product as quickly as possible. In general that strategy will yield the greatest economic return to the industry. It is to the industry’s advantage to make every effort to extend the shelf life of all seafood; this will provide the longest possible time to market the product. Maximizing shelf life will get more fresh product on the market.

Toxic preservatives are being used by people/traders in Kerala who are importing fish from neighbouring States. It is highly unlikely that traders from Andhra Pradesh are directly selling fish in Kerala after preserving it in formalin.

The State Food Safety wing officials during inspection seized 6,000 kg of fish preserved using formalin (formaldehyde) at the inter-State border check-post at Walayar in Palakkad.

The seized fish — prawn/shrimp — had been brought in from Andhra Pradesh and preliminary examination using rapid detection strip tests, developed by the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology (CIFT), revealed the presence of formalin in the fish.

Following this, samples were collected and sent for detailed analysis at the CIFT lab in Ernakulam, food safety officials said.

The inspections, as part of Operation Sagar Rani, were led by the Joint Food Safety Commissioner (Administration), along with a team of food safety intelligence officials from Kozhikode and Ernakulam and the district food safety squad in Palakkad. The team inspected 45 vehicles that were found to be transporting fish. Operation Sagar Rani had been launched by the Food Safety department last year to ensure the safety of fish sold in the market and to ensure that it was handled hygienically at the handling and distribution centres.

“Whenever the domestic availability of fish goes down during trawling ban in the State, we should suspect that such unscrupulous methods would be used to bring in fish from neighbouring States. Ammonia and formaldehyde are commonly used to increase the shelf life of fish. The strip test developed by CIFT can detect both chemicals,” said K. Anilkumar, Joint Commissioner of Food Safety.

Earlier too, the food safety wing has tried to monitor the quality of fish in the market by collecting samples and sending it for analysis .

“But at the time, rapid detection tests were not available. We had to collect samples and let the consignment go. By the time sample tests results arrived, the fish would have been sold in the retail market. About 16  percent  of the samples we were sending to the lab were later found to be contaminated. The rapid detection test kits were developed by CIFT in November last following a request from the State Fisheries department and we had purchased it,” Mr. Anilkumar said. Food Safety wing is planning to extend the use of the test kits to the retail markets too.

The seizure comes a week after officials seized 14,000 kg of fish from eight trucks and sent them back to the originating place with a warning that they were not edible in any form and should be destroyed immediately after alerting their counterparts in Andhra Pradesh.

Tests conducted later at the Central Institute of Fisheries Technology in Kochi found 63.9 mg of formalin in a kilogram of fish.

Medical experts said formalin (formaldehyde) which is generally used to preserve bodies can cause serious ailments like cancer.

In 2011, the US National Toxicology Program had dubbed formaldehyde as a human carcinogen.

“Formalin poses serious health hazards. Once inside the body, it triggers a metabolic process and produces toxins. While cooking, its toxicity never gets spoiled,” said health expert Dr Mathew Thomas.

“We have stepped up our vigil and will conduct tests randomly at fish markets to find out the possible mix,” said assistant food safety commissioner A K Mini.

She said her department has written to the state government to allow only refrigerated trucks to carry fish.

The state food safety department has carried out drive called ‘Operation Sagar Rani’ following complaints about the deteriorating quality of fish.


Chander Mohan
Krishi Jagran

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