By Syed Akbar
Hyderabad: For more than a century people have been sipping tea
contaminated with iron filings. The Central government has now woken
up to this major health hazard and fixed 150 mg of iron filings per
one kg of tea as the upper permissible limit.
The city based National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) is conducting a
study on the harmful impact of iron filings in tea. The present limit
will remain till the results of the NIN study are published. The
government may increase or decrease the upper limit for iron filings
in tea based on the outcome of the NIN study.
The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI), the
country’s premier body that sets food safety levels, has fixed 150 mg
per one kg as a temporary limit. This limit will stay for a period of
one year or till the NIN comes out with the report. “Zero presence of
iron fillings is not possible in tea,” says the FSSAI circular while
arriving at the standard.
Iron filings enter tea due to wear and tear of the machinery. The
problem is noticed even in the new machinery. Many developed countries
have fixed the maximum level of 120 mg/kg for iron filings in tea. The
Indian limit is slighting higher. The limit is as high as 500 mg per
kg in poor countries. Neighbouring Sri Lanka allows up to 200 mg of
iron filings per kg of tea.
“Iron does not easily go out of the body. It accumulates and when the
concentration of iron reaches a particular level, the body begins to
react. Simple symptoms include loose motion to stomach ache, while
severe health issues include heart attack. Men require just 8 mg of
iron per day. It is 18 mg in case of women,” points out expert in
internal medicine Dr K Ramachandra Murthy.
The continuous presence of iron filings in tea has raised safety
concerns and there have been several demands to fix an upper limit.
Though iron is good for health, excess intake may lead to severe
health complications including cancers and cardiac problems. In the
absence of standards thus far, tea manufacturers do not mention on the
packs the extent of contamination by iron filings. The new FSSAI
standard will help consumers to file case in a consumer forum against
the manufacturer in case iron filings are present in quantity above
the maximum permissible limit.
The Tea Board on its part has decided to keep a tab on the quality of
tea and its infusion to ensure that iron filings are not present in
excess. It will collect samples from different parts of the country at
frequent intervals to maintain the standards.
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