In what is certainly not good news for seafood enthusiasts, officials from the food safety and fisheries departments have seized fish preserved in formalin, a toxic carcinogenic chemical used as a disinfectant or to preserve biological samples in laboratories.
When officials led by GA Bushra Shabnam, deputy director of the Tirunelveli fisheries department, recently carried out surprise checks at six stores – three each in Palayamkottai and Melapalayam – they detected fish preserved in formalin. They seized about 25 kg and immediately destroyed them.
Similar surprise raids in Tenkasi and Melagaram also led to the seizure of 10 kg of fish preserved in formalin.
Since the retailer told officials they made the purchase from wholesalers, officials couldn’t focus on the real culprits who sprinkled formalin on the fish to extend its shelf life.
Traders in Tirunelveli and Tenkasi, who mainly buy fish in Thoothukudi and Kanniyakumari districts, also buy Kerala seafood either directly at auction or from larger vendors. Sometimes they also buy at the fish markets of Rameswaram, Pamban and Mookkaiyoor in Ramanathapuram district.
Following information about the sale of formalin preserved fish, Ms. Bushra Shabnam and officials from the Food Security Department and the Tirunelveli Corporation took action which led to the seizure of formalin preserved fish from of retail traders in Palayamkottai and Melapalayam.
Officials say fish preserved in formalin has no specific odor and the texture remains tough even if it is stale. Additionally, a sliced ââportion treated with the chemical will be white instead of the natural color of the flesh.
âIt can be detected using a kit costing around 450 yen and marketed by the Kochi-based Central Institute of Fisheries Technology and a private company. When two drops of the colorless chemical reagent from the kit are added to the flesh of the fish placed in a test tube with distilled water, it changes from colorless to pink in 30 seconds, indicating the presence of formalin, âexplains Ms. Bushra. Shabnam, winner of the prestigious Dr. TJ Varghese award.
The kit can be used to perform 300 samples in three months.
Food safety officials also say consumer awareness is paramount, although frequent surprise checks will be carried out in markets.
âWhen we attacked the fish merchants in Palayamkottai, we discovered the use of formalin to preserve fish, mainly of the Sankara variety. The samples were sent for analysis. When purchasing, the texture should be checked as it should not be unusually hard. Those who can afford the test kit can go, âsaid an official who participated in the raid.