The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Maharashtra issued orders in the Mumbai division instructing the street food vendors, sweet shops, bakery owners to not use newspapers to wrap food items.
The ink used in the newspaper is harmful to customers, it said. Officials said that they have directed the vendors to stop giving food items like ‘vada pav, pohe, sweets, bhel, and other eating items wrapped in newspapers to customers, the FDA also warned of strict action if the practice is not stopped.
In 2016, the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) had issued a pan-India advisory, banning newspapers from being used for wrapping food items.
FDA officials said that they had organised several awareness programmes among street vendors to educate them on the perils of wrapping edible food in newspapers. However, "Till now, we have not received any complaints from people about food being wrapped in newspapers. But if we receive any complaint, action will be taken against the street vendors," said a senior official.
Shashikant Kendre, assistant food commissioner, FDA (Mumbai division), said, the ink used for newspaper printing contaminates food after packaging in the newspaper, which can severely impact individual wellness.
Contamination of food indicates the appearance of harmful chemicals and infectious microorganisms that can influence unfavourable effects on human health, he said.
"The ink used to print the newspapers and magazines are made from chemicals. Wrapping hot cooked food in the newspaper is harmful as the ink gets imprinted on the food. We have instructed the vendors to use an alternative way to pack food or else we will take action against them," added Kendre.
As per the FDA data, around inspection on 1,718 vendors was conducted this financial year of which 129 inspections were conducted in January 2022. The inspection included checking on the label, substandard quality of food, check on license and packaging of food.
The FSSAI advisory cautioned, "Newspapers are widely used as absorbent paper in small hotels, by vendors, and in homes but the printing ink contains multiple bioactive materials (including harmful colours, pigments, binders, additives and preservatives) which can cause negative health effects. Newspapers should not be used to wrap food or absorb excess oil from fried food. There is an urgent need to discourage the use of newspapers as a food packaging material by creating awareness amongst businesses, especially in the unorganised sector."
A senior official from the FSSAI said that the consumers are unaware that the food wrapped in a newspaper can cause severe health problems, as it contains heavy metals. There was a study conducted by FSSAI which showed that food wrapped in a newspaper has the presence of heavy metals in it.
"The study was done in collaboration with the Indian Institute of Packaging (IIP), Mumbai, and the National Test House (NTH), Kolkata. As many as 380 food samples were collected from the unorganised sector and 13.4 per cent of the foods were found contaminated," he said.
Dr Honey Savla, Consultant Internal Medicine, Wockhardt Hospital, said, health hazards can come in various forms. The ink used to print the newspaper consists of components such as lead, naphthylamines, and aromatic hydrocarbons. They have seen rising incidences of neurological disease, heart, lung, and liver disease in addition to malignancies.
"These carcinogenic substances accumulate in the consumer's body over a period of time and then start to change at the cellular level, leading to various ailments. Nonetheless, newspapers are the articles from the transmission of various disease-causing germs which add to a load of infectious diseases," she said.