SHERYL AFONSO e D’SOUZA
CLINICAL NUTRITIONIST (NORBERT’S FITNESS STUDIO) & ASST. PROFESSOR (POST-GRADUATE DEGREE STUDIES, CARMEL COLLEGE)
Formalin is a colourless solution of formaldehyde in water, used chiefly as a preservative – disinfectant and tissue hardener – for biological and anatomical specimens especially in research laboratories. The need to preserve foods for longer periods of time has become inevitable today, and formalin is one preservative that has been used to increase the shelf life of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, and fish. This use of formalin as a preservative and its consequent threat to public health and nutrition led the World Health Organization to set an acceptable level of 15 ppm of formalin for the human body. Excess consumption of formalin can lead to gastritis, liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, and it may also harm the bone marrow causing anaemia and leukaemia.
Formaldehyde, the base used in formalin production, is a toxic systemic poison that is absorbed well by inhalation. Unknown to many, formaldehyde is used in building materials and to produce many household products. It is used in pressed-wood products, such as particleboard, plywood, and fibreboard; glues and adhesives; permanent-press fabrics; paper product coatings; and certain insulation materials. It is also produced in small amounts by most living organisms as part of normal metabolic processes. Other major sources of formaldehyde exposure in the air are automobile emissions, cigarette smoke, and fuel-burning appliances such as wood-burning stoves and kerosene heaters. Industrial workers who produce formaldehyde or formaldehyde-containing products, laboratory technicians, certain health care professionals, and mortuary employees may be exposed to higher levels of formaldehyde than the general public. Certain cosmetics also contain a significant amount of formalin in them.
The commonly used preservative strength is 10% formalin, which is 3.7% formaldehyde in water with 1% methanol. This is either sprayed over the fish or the fish is dipped in a solution containing formalin. In these proportions, science tells us that formalin does not cause excessive tissue shrinkage or distortion of cellular structure. Studies also conform that cooking significantly reduces the formalin content of a food. Other home-level methods of ensuring you do not consume formalin with your food are as follows:
- Soaking raw food (with peel or skin) in plain water or salt water for about 1 hour.
- Placing fruits, vegetables, or fish in a vinegar solution (1:1 ratio) for 10 to 15 minutes.
- Checking the firmness of fish on purchase – soft, rather than rubbery, flesh is what you need to be looking for.
Gone are the days of fresh produce that could be blindly consumed without questions and doubts! Awareness is the need of the hour today, but undue attention that results in public panic should be done away with. Reason and understanding should be applied to all things science and nutrition. Fish is the Goan staple; it is a veritable source of complete protein, iodine, and omega 3 fatty acids, the benefits of which far outweigh the concerns raised by additives and preservatives. Individual and home methods of negating the effects of the latter need to be learned, while also educating the producer and supplier about acceptable production and marketing practices.