Thursday, January 13, 2011


Man's ingenuity in harming himself through use of unnecessary chemicals in day to day life is some thing difficult to comprehend. According to a recent report food industry alone is permitted to use more than 3000 additives in foods for different purposes, some genuine but most of them unnecessary. Here is an example of a simple chemical permitted to be used for an innocuous purpose viz making fresh apple look shiny and attractive. Morpholine, chemically known as Diethylene Oximide, is a heterocyclic chemical containing both amine and ether functional groups, derived from Diethanolamine by dehydration using sulphuric acid. It is basically an industrial chemical used in petroleum fuels for pH adjustment and in nuclear power plants to avoid corrosion of cooling pipes. Unfortunately it is also an additive in wax coating preparations widely used by the fresh produce industry in some countries. Recent banning of this chemical in the UK has raised a large hue and cry from the industry, giving the impression that it is a "life and death" problem for them! Here is a take on that issue.

"The Fresh Produce Consortium (FPC) issued its warning following an announcement from the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) that apples containingmorpholine must be withdrawn from sale and returned to their country of origin. The alarm was raised after it discovered the unapproved additive on imported Chilean fruit. But the UK trade group said it challenged the FSA's interpretation that the substance is a food additive and not a processing aid, as designated in other countries. Morpholine is used as a carrier for glazing agents applied to fruit and is permitted in various countries outside of the EU, including Chile, the USA and Canada".

"The food watchdog has sent letters to fresh produce importers and local authorities after a sampling programme revealed the additive, which is forbidden for use with the European Union, had been found on apples and citrus fruit shipped into the UK from a number of countries. It urged industry to ensure that all future fresh produce imports are morpholine-free in order to meet current EU legislation. "Waxes containing morpholine aren't allowed under EU rules and shouldn't be on food products," said the agency's food safety director Dr Alison Gleadle. "However, eating any of the fruit is unlikely to be a health concern. The FSA added that citrus fruit treated with morpholine could still be sold as they are peeled prior to consumption".

Is it not a paradox that the industry is hiding behind technicalities to justify the use of morpholine by insisting on this chemical as a process aid rather than a food additive? Though there are no clear cut evidence that morpholine is a hazard yet, there are stray reports of workers exposed to this chemical suffering from Rhinitis, lower air way irritation and corneal oedema. The fact is that no major studies have been carried out so far to assess its impact on human health. According to industry sources morpholine is necessary for emulsifying and solubilizing shellac which is used to coat fresh apple and it is further claimed that coating is done just to "replace" the natural wax, lost during washing! Food industry will have to be more sensitive to the increasing consumer concerns regarding use of unnecessary chemicals with doubtful safety credentials, if it does not want to become irrelevant in the lives of the consuming public.


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