Don’t Cry over Adulteration, Milk is largely Safe-FSSAI

The Food Regulator presented full milk Survey Report scotching the rumours of milk being unsafe


New Delhi: FSSAI (Food Safety&Standards Authority of India has concluded that adulteration in milk is hearsay and rumours. The fears of widespread adulteration in milk are ill founded.  There are no health concerns regarding milk. There are quality concerns instead.

The food regulator has inferred it from the survey done last year. It yesterday released the full report of the ‘National Milk Safety and Quality Survey 2018’. The survey results seemed to demolish the perception of large scale milk adulteration in the country. But Pawan Aggarwal, CEO of FSSAI, had to contend with a heavy grilling from media for such sweeping conclusion. Mr Aggarwal had a tough time trying to field queries from media persons. But he acquitted himself well.

Though, it is a fact that regardless of contaminants and adulterants, milk and milk products are not looked at as safe for health and fitness.

The survey result is bound to trigger widespread reactions. The survey has shown that 12 out of 6,432 samples of milk were adulterated that render such milk unsafe for human consumption. Six samples were found adulterated with hydrogen peroxide, three with detergents, two with urea and one sample was found to have neutralizers. No samples were found with boric acid and nitrates, the other two possible adulterants. Out of 12 adulterated samples, nine were in Telangana, two from Madhya Pradesh and one from Kerala. While, there is concern, but this dispels wide spread perception that liquid milk in the country is largely adulterated.

A major finding in the survey was presence of Aflatoxin M1 residues beyond permissible limits in 368 (out of 6,432) samples, that is 5.7% of the samples. This is the first time that such a detailed survey of presence of Aflatoxin M1 in milk has been done in the country.  Aflatoxin M1 comes in the milk through feed and fodder, which are currently not regulated in the country.  Amongst the top three States with highest levels of Aflatoxin M1 residues are Tamil Nadu (88 out of 551 samples), Delhi (38 out of 262 samples) and Kerala 37 out of 187 samples). This problem is more dominant in processed milk rather raw milk.

The survey further showed that 77 (out of 6,432) samples, that 1.2 % of the samples had residues of antibiotics above the permissible limits. Amongst the top three States with highest levels of Antibiotics residues are Madhya Pradesh (23 out of 335 samples), Maharashtra (9 out of 678 samples) and UP (8 out of 729 samples). Only one raw milk sample in Kerala was found to contain pesticide residue above the permissible level.

This is the first time that a quantitative analysis of all samples that failed on account of adulterants and contaminants has been done. It is found that the level of adulterants and contaminants in failed samples is not high, therefore unlikely to pose serious threat to human health. FSSAI is however committed to zero tolerance for any adulteration and contamination of milk. The survey has helped in identification of hot spots, so that more intensified efforts for surveillance and enforcement could be taken up in such areas.

In a recent meeting of stakeholders, where this survey report was discussed and accepted, there was a unanimous view that incident of spurious milk as reported in the media are one-of incidents and are restricted to few areas and are seasonal occurring in festival times when there is large demand-supply gap. Such incidents can only be tackled by having strict vigil in such areas. FSSAI has written to the States on this.

The stakeholders’ group further deliberated on the presence of ammonium sulphate in milk. After careful review of scientific opinion, the group reached a conclusion that ammonium sulphate is coming into the milk naturally and is absolutely safe and not a contaminant as earlier thought. It was noted that ammonium sulphate is allowed as an additive in certain foods in several countries,

Overall, above 93% of the samples that is 5976 (out of 6,432) samples were found to be absolutely safe for human consumption. This is undoubtedly good news for the Indian consumers. The survey however shown that about 41% samples, though safe, fall short of one or another quality parameter. Both raw and processed samples were found non-compliant on account of low fat or low SNF (solid not fat) or both. Proportion of fat and solid non-fat (SNF) in milk varies widely by species and depends on breed as well as quality of feed and fodder. Cattle must be properly fed and good farm practices must be adopted to improve the amount of fat and SNF in milk. Non-compliance on these parameters in raw milk could be for these reasons or due to dilution of milk with water. Non-compliance of fat and SNF in standardized/processed milk is however surprising.

Presence of Maltodextrin in 156 (out of 6432) samples and Sugar in 78 (out of 6432) samples is yet another surprise. This mainly confined to processed milk. Maltodextrin and sugar are not unsafe but added to raise the level of fat and SNF. While, these do not represent threat to human health, but stringent action is required to curb this wrong practice. The survey did not find any non-compliance on account of other parameters viz. Cellulose, Glucose, Starch and Vegetable oil was not found in the collected samples.

This Milk Survey was conducted from May, 2018 to October 2018 covering all States and UTs with the objective of monitoring safety and quality of liquid milk in the country. A total of 6,432 samples of milk were collected from 1,103 towns/cities with population above 50,000, representing both organized (retailers and processors) as well as non-organized (local dairy farms, milk vendors and milk mandis) sectors. Number of samples collected was linked to population at the sampling locations and covered different types of milk (raw and processed of various types).

While, all samples were tested on the spot for critical parameters of quality and safety, samples that failed on account of contaminants and adulterants were subjected to confirmatory analysis. This was done by proficient analysts in NABL-accredited and FSSAI-recognized laboratories using high-end equipment and employing established testing protocols. This survey has been carried out by an independent third party agency. It is first-of-its kind extensive well-designed, representative and most comprehensive survey to assess safety and quality of liquid milk so far.

The outcome of the survey is a myth buster. The survey results indicate clearly that milk being sold in India is largely safe for consumption. This is contrary to wide-spread perception of large scale milk adulteration in the country based on deceitful campaign and unsubstantiated reports. Further, the results of previous two experimental surveys by FSSAI have also been grossly misrepresented causing unnecessary scare in the minds of the consumers.

It is imperative that safety and quality of milk are maintained. FSSAI Survey has clearly shown that while milk is largely safe milk, contamination due to Aflatoxin M1 and Antibiotic residues is more serious problem than milk adulteration and the quality concerns persist. While combatting adulteration requires more vigilant citizens and enforcement machinery, contamination in milk requires systemic improvements through the supply chain. And that is being done.

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Table 1: Summary of non-compliant (NC) samples with safety issues

Criteria Sample Numbers Sector wise Overall#, %
Processed Raw
Samples % Samples %
Total Samples in the survey 6432 2607 40.5 3825 59.5
Samples with safety issues (non-compliant) 456@ 271 10.4 185 4.8 7.1
Aflatoxin-M1 368 227 8.7 141 3.7 5.7
Antibiotics 77 40 1.5 37 1.0 1.2
Pesticides 01 0 0.0 1 <0.1 <0.1
(ii) Adulterants 12 5 0.19 7 0.18 0.18
Urea 02 0 0.0 2 <0.1 <0.1
Detergents 03 1 <0.1 2 <0.1 <0.1
Hydrogen peroxide 06 3 0.1 3 0.1 0.1
Neutralizers 01 1 <0.1 0 <0.1 <0.1

(# : expressed as percentage of total number of samples in the survey i.e., 6432)

(@ : includes 134 samples that also failed for both quality as well as safety issues)

(The sum of individual failures will not match to total failures as some samples failed for more parameters)


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