Formalin in fruits can be fatal
Dr Sajol Ashfaq

The ingestion of formaldehyde over a prolonged period can develop respiratory, digestive, cardiac, nephrological and neurological problems, along with cancer

  • Formalin is dangerous for all ages 
    Photo- Wikimedia

Fruits are known to be foods of heaven. Fruits are being considered as nature’s best gift for human beings. Everyone knows that fruits are delicious, that is why, all generations of people are fond of them very much. But these heavenly foods aren’t that heavenly in our country. A section of unscrupulous traders were mixing formalin with foodstuff, including fruits. For the last few years, the contamination of foods with formalin is a burning issue, gradually people are coming to know how formalin is injurious to our health. Now people fear to eat fruits, even though fruits are proven to be very nutritious scientifically for centuries. Many essential nutrients are only present in fruits; therefore, contamination of formalin with fruits has deprived children from these essential nutrients. Conscious parents, who are concerned about this contamination, are not willing to give fruits to their children.

Formalin is a chemical used for preserving dead bodies in hospital mortuaries and dissection room in medical colleges, fixation of biopsy sample in medical examinations, and for disinfection of hospital rooms, operation theatres and few surgical instruments. But this formalin is now used unethically for preserving fruits. Formalin delays decomposition of fruits, so most of the venders use formalin. It is heard that fruits especially mangoes and litchis are sprayed with formalin when they are on trees! The widespread use of formalin, in preservation of fruit is posing a threat to public health. The chemical used as a solution in water keeps fruit apparently fresh and makes fruits like mangoes attractive. In our country presence of formalin has already been detected in fruits like apples, bananas, grapes, mangoes and even maltas.

Health hazards of formalin

Formalin is such a harmful chemical that the handlers of them are not safe. Formalin has a bad effect on eyes and nose. Eyes are most sensitive to formaldehyde (formalin) exposure. The eyes, nose, and throat are irritated by formaldehyde vapors at levels as low as about 0.3 part formaldehyde per million  parts of air (0.3 part per million, or 0.3 “ppm”). The lowest level at which many people can begin to smell formaldehyde is about 0.05ppm.  Exposure from its gas or vapor can cause irritation to the eyes, nose and respiratory tract, resulting in watery eyes, sneezing, headache, and burning sensations in throat, cough, and difficulty in breathing. Multiple exposures (5-30 ppm and higher) can trigger or aggravate asthma symptoms. Serious inhalation or ingestion can cause severe pain with inflammation, ulceration and necrosis of the mucous membranes, which lines almost every internal organ of the body. Formaldehyde solutions can destroy your skin’s natural protective oils, causing dryness, flaking, cracking, and dermatitis (skin rash). Skin contact can also cause an allergic reaction (redness, itching, hives, and blisters). Sometimes formalin can affect the retina and cause blindness.

Fruits dipped in formalin are harmful to health. The ingestion of formaldehyde over a prolonged period can develop respiratory, digestive, cardiac, nephrological and neurological problems, along with cancer.

Formalin is highly toxic to all animals, regardless of method of intake. Ingestion of as little as 30 ml (1 oz.) of a solution containing 37% formaldehyde has been reported to cause death in an adult human. Water solution of formaldehyde, i.e. formalin, is very corrosive and its ingestion can immediately cause severe injury to the upper digestive system. This may show up as symptoms of nausea, vomiting blood, and diarrhoea with bloody stool, blood from the urine, breathlessness, vertigo, and circulation failure, then death. 30ml is the suggested lethal dose of formalin. When formaldehyde enters into the body it is converted to formic acid, increases the acidity of blood and causes severe shortness of breath. But its long term use has a delayed effect such as damaging of kidneys, liver, brain, bone marrow, body defense and on fetus in pregnant women.

Some other studies also show formalin will cause kidney failure, liver damage, and lung problems like- bronchitis (chronic cough), pneumonia (severe inflammation in lung), asthma and allergic reactions. Researchers said its effects on the brain can cause dementia and loss of memory.

Anaemia and blood cancer can be consequences of bone marrow depression when formalin travels in blood. It also weakens the body’s defense mechanism against infections, resulting in repeated attacks of diseases. Formalin’s effect on pregnancy and the reproductive system has been studied in both humans and in laboratory animals. Formaldehyde has been shown to decrease fertility and increase the risk of spontaneous abortion (miscarriage) in humans. In laboratory animals, formaldehyde can harm (birth defects and IQ) the developing fetus and damage sperm.

Formalin that was recently found in food, not only cause such health hazards, it can precipitate cancer. A study showed mice exposed to formalin with concentration of 6 to 15 ppm for 2 years developed squamous-cell carcinoma (a type of cancer in mucous membrane) in the nose, sinuses, stomach as well as some types of blood cancer (leukemia and lymphoma).

How do you recognize a formalin free fruit?

A fresh fruit is always firm or soft on touch. Its skin shows natural look which changes day by day. A fruit dipped in formalin solution feels hard on touch.  Colour of the fruits skin becomes dull and will not change over time. Usually the smell of fruits attract many insects. So, fresh fruits are surrounded by many fruit loving insects. But fruits with formalin are free from flies, bees, ants or any other fruit loving insects.  So, before you buy fruits watch for these scenarios.

Formalin is also used for preserving milk, fish, fruit and other foodstuffs, including vegetables.

Formalin is dangerous for all ages; children and older people are affected easily and badly. It is said, once formalin is added, it cannot be removed. So washing of fruits is not effective to make it safe. Few of our superstores claim they are selling formalin free fruits but these small effort are not in the reach of general people. Most people are exposed to the risk of formalin intoxication.  Intoxication of food stuffs like fruits by formalin silently ruin our future generation. Only awareness is not sufficient. Who has the responsibility to save us?

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