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Look before you eat

  • Published at 11:29 am December 27th, 2018
Is it safe?
Is it safe? / BIGSTOCK

Newspapers shouldn’t mix with your food

With the approaching evening sun, delicious street foods lure the city-dwellers, turning the crowded sidewalks into marketplaces. 

That day somehow, I could resist myself from buying these irresistible street foods after a long tiring day at work. I was in a hurry to catch my bus. Nonetheless, I met one of my teachers in the street before a food cart. He was having some pakoras packed in newspaper, the most frequently used food package in Dhaka city. 

He offered me to have some, and I couldn’t resist. While having one, I could detect the unmistakable taste of ink. Otherwise the food was good, so we ignored it as usual. We were not alone -- passersby in groups were buying street food packed in newspapers, some were wiping oil out while some rubbed their hands and faces with the newspapers. 

Recently, my mother was misdiagnosed with myeloma, a kind of blood cancer with no known treatment. After thorough checkups, doctors declared that she has a growth in her plasma cells, but the risk of cancer was not there. That accelerated my search for reasons behind health risks, and I noticed that there are numerous causes for an increased risk of cancer, with direct and indirect consumption of chemicals always being a prominent one. 

That taste of ink as I had my pakora enlightened me of how close we are to consuming chemicals. Inks used for printing are not safe at all. They contain harmful colours, pigments, multiple bio-actives like naphthylamine, benzidine, and aromatic hydrocarbons that can cause cancer. Even newspaper printing workers have been diagnosed with increased risks of lung and bladder cancer due to repeated exposure to these harmful chemicals. 

Yet, the usage of newspapers has reached such an extent that someday we might even observe people raising their voices in demand that newspapers should be food graded. 

Newspapers are no substitute to food graded plates, packets, or cleaning tissues. Although, apart from providing information, newspapers in our country have roles in packing, squeezing out the excess oil from food, wiping our hands and mouth after a meal. These newspapers are not only chemically potent, but also full of dirt. 

Nevertheless, throughout the year, we observe people buying lots of food packed in newspapers, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, and after the long fasting period, people have spicy chhola-muri mixed with various other fried food on newspapers -- a common scenario in bus stops, market places, and student dormitories. 

Winter is upon us, and various traditional pithas are being sold -- also packed with old newspapers. It is hard for us to resist eating these delicious pithas in the cold misty winter. This unhealthy practice can cause digestive problems and lead to severe toxicity, even if the food has been cooked hygienically. 

This year, while visiting Chennai, I noticed the people using a kind of special non-stick white paper for packaging food. These papers are oil resistant, food graded, and cheap. Therefore, people are commonly seen eating and carrying food wrapped with these special papers. To enhance food safety, in 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FASSI) asked commissioners of food safety of all states and union territories of India to take necessary steps to restrict the use of newspapers for packing and storing food items. 

That was the first time in India when FASSI brought a new rule relating to packaging of food items, and we could learn a lot from these steps taken by our neighbouring country. 

However, information is a perishable product. So, the very moment newspapers are read, materialistic values are added to it while its idealistic values are decreased. From a very early time, we have used our potential in using goods as substitutes to cut our costs down to as low as possible. 

So, by now, newspapers have almost replaced the idea of food graded packets in open distribution for food. It is unfortunate that there is less awareness of ink adherence to the food we eat in our country. Yet, in the long run, this will risk one’s health, and make people susceptible to diseases such as cancer. 

Debotosh Ghosh is a writer and researcher.

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