Study finds cancer-causing fungal toxin in milk

Last Updated 19 October 2019, 05:06 IST

Milk quality is in the news once more, with a new survey revealing the presence of a fungal toxin that can trigger cancer.

The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) looked for contaminants and adulterants in 6,432 milk samples between May and October 2018. The survey spotted the presence of aflatoxin, a carcinogen, in 368 samples, with Tamil Nadu topping the list with 88 such samples (out of 551) followed by the National Capital Territory of Delhi (38 of 262) and Kerala (37 of 187).

Detailed survey

This is the first time that such a detailed survey about the presence of aflatoxin-M1 in milk has been carried out in the country.

The large scale detection of the plant toxin comes 15 years after scientists at the Lucknow-based Industrial Toxicology Research Centre raised red-flags on testing 87 samples, including infant milk food, infant formula, liquid milk and milk-based cereal waning foods. The level of the toxin was above the Codex limit in 99% cases, the ITRC scientists reported in the journal Food Control in 2004.

Eight years later, another group from Central Food Technology Research Institute, Mysore found the same toxin in 12% of the samples they picked up from Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

“The problem of aflatoxin-M1 is more dominant in processed milk than raw milk. It comes in the milk through feed and fodder which are currently not regulated. There is no proper laboratory in India to test this residue. Efforts are being made to invest in testing machines that can detect its residue,” FSSAI Chief Executive Officer Pawan Agarwal said after releasing the study.

The presence of maltodextrin in 156 samples and sugar in 78 samples – mainly in processed milk - are two other surprises. While maltodextrin and sugar are not unsafe, they are added to raise the level of fat and SNF (solid, not fat).

“These (chemicals) don’t represent threat to human health, but stringent action is required to curb this wrong practice,” FSSAI said in a note.

Overall, above 93% of the samples (5,976 of 6,432) were found to be absolutely safe for human consumption, which was undoubtedly good news for Indian consumers, it added.

The survey, however, shows 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 or both.

(Published 18 October 2019, 19:05 IST)

Follow us on