Ice manufacturers cool to using dye

In May, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) issued a circular that ice manufactured for industrial purposes must be differentiated by adding a blue dye.

However, little has changed on the ground with ice manufacturers maintaining ignorance of the circular and officials saying that they have launched a campaign to raise awareness.

Along the State’s long coastline, hundreds of small and big ice manufacturing units flourish and few follow the norms laid down by the food safety regulator. In Ramanathapuram, the district collector issued a release three weeks ago about the new FSSAI notification. But food safety officials say that it is impossible to implement the order unless the manufacturing units are sensitised.

“The ice manufacturing units in these areas are usually 30×40 ft. buildings with a cement tank and employ at the most 2-3 people,” said P. Nallathambi, a designated food safety officer in Cuddalore district. The units use water from borewells, store them for a few days before freezing them. “In Cuddalore alone, there are 35 units manufacturing industrial ice. Fishermen pick up blocks of ice before launching their expedition,” he added.

Thoothukudi has five major ice manufacturing units and 12 small units and all of them use colourless ice bars, mostly for preserving fish. A total of 245 mechanised boats operate from Thoothukudi fishing harbour and another 107 boats from Tharuvaikulam fishing harbour, 10 km from Thoothukudi.

From Kanniyakumari’s Chinna Muttam and Colachal fishing harbours, around 465 boats are operated and the fish is preserved in colourless ice.

The FSSAI circular says that as ice used for industrial purposes is not safe for consumption, it needs to be differentiate from edible ice with a dye.

“Synthetic colour permitted under the Food Safety Act is to be used,” Mr. Nallathambi said.

Early days

Food safety officers in Ramanathapuram said it is too early to take action against industrial ice manufacturers. They would need to be given time to switch over to coloured ice, an official explained.

A senior FSSAI official in Coimbatore said that the food regulator has launched efforts to enforce colour differentiation for non-edible ice. “Chances are high for non-edible ice to be used in bakeries, cool bars and roadside juice stalls,” said B. Vijayalalithambigai, a designated FSSAI official in Coimbatore.

Laboratory examinations of groundwater in the past in Coimbatore have shown the presence of heavy metals and harmful bacteria like E. coli.

As per the new norms, manufacturers can use permitted colours like indigo carmine or brilliant blue up to 10 parts per million for dyeing non-edible ice whereas edible ice will remain colourless.

FSSAI officials had found that colour coding for non-edible ice was not being followed when they conducted a joint inspection with the Fisheries Department to check the use of preservatives in fish sold at Ukkdadam fish market last week though the colour distinction had come into effect from June 1. “A list of industries manufacturing non-edible ice will be drawn up to enforce the norms,” said Ms. Vijayalalithambigai.

Many vendors opt for large ice blocks instead of ice cubes made of potable water as the former cost Rs. 6 per kg, whereas ice cubes in packets are priced Rs. 10 per kg.

M. Karthikeyan, vice-president of the Bakery Owners Welfare Association in Coimbatore, insisted that 90% of the 500-odd bakeries in Coimbatore have switched to packet ice cubes.

Awareness campaign

FSSAI is planning a mass awareness campaign for bakery owners, operators of juice stalls and roadside vendors to prevent the use of non-edible ice in beverages and other eatables.

In Tiruchi, ice block manufacturers said they had not received any communication from the Food Safety Department on colour differentiation of edible and non-edible ice. Though the manufacturers maintained that they use both potable and borewell water for making the ice blocks used for preserving perishable food items.

An ice manufacturer based in Thuvakudi said the salt in the water sourced from borewells gets separated in the process of conversion to ice. Another manufacturer in Palakkarai sid ice cannot be made with impure water.

"The colour will show up easily. In fact, ice blocks made with rain water will also have a pale yellow shade," he said.

Bleeding colour

Though ice manufacturers in Madurai were aware of FSSAI’s guidelines. K. Suresh Kumar, head of SS Ice Company in Kalavasal, said that only one local manufacturer had tried adding colour. “That member faced deep losses because non-edible ice to which blue colour was added became a problem for him when it was used to preserve flowers and fish. The produce began acquiring a blue tint. Our main target groups stopped purchasing ice from the company. Fearing a similar plunge in numbers, we did not follow the practice,” he said.

“We make ice using borewell water and it is fit for consumption. We do not understand why the government is insisting on such regulations,” he said, adding that the FSSAI should instead conduct regular inspections at ice manufacturing companies to spot fraud.

“In Madurai, a 50 kg bar costs Rs. 120. The scaremongering has caused us unnecessary trouble and has brought forth distrust. Juice sellers, who are our primary ‘edible ice’ customers, are vigilant about poor quality ice. It is they who should maintain hygiene when selling their products,” he said.

FSSAI officials maintained that the colour would not bleed onto the preserved objects. “The ice when it dissolves will run as blue water. It will not damage the fish or any object that it preserves,” Mr. Nallathambi said.

(With input from P.Sudhakar in Tirunelveli, Walter J. Scott in Ramanathapuram, Wilson Thomas in Coimbatore, R. Krishnamoorthy in Tiruchi and Sanjana Ganesh in Madurai)

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