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‘Mango Bite’ raids on Parle factories set to rock food industry

India’s food industry that was given numerous incentives in the last decade has come under the scanner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) when it raided Parle Biscuits Pvt Ltd’s factories to seize its branded Mango Bite candies with more than permissible levels of lactic acid. The move is set to rock the industry which requires a new set of standards in keeping with new research findings on food preservants.

The FDA has seized candies in their factories amounting to more than Rs 2 crore from Raigadh, Nashik and Bhiwandi factories of Parle Biscuits last month and sent them for lab testing to confirm the “excessive levels” of lactic acid as alleged. Based on the lab report, the authorities are planning to file cases against the country’s one of the top candy-makers and erstwhile owners of Thums Up which they had sold to Coca Cola in the 1980s, in one of the industry’s first sell outs to an MNC.

The seizure is set to destablize the food-processing industry which is huge and fast-growing in India. Currently, the market size of confectionery in India is estimated at $1.1 billion, growing at the rate of 11.9 percent per annum. It is estimated to grow up to $2 billion by 2014 by Datamonitor in its 2010 report.

Arup Chauhan, MD of Parle Products, said: “The goods from some of the factories have been seized, but we have not yet got any further instructions from the FDA.”

Assistant food inspector (FDA headquarters, Mumbai) K V Sankhe said the product, though positioned categorized as sugar-boiled confectionary, has excessive amounts of lactic acid amounting to recall of the product from several places last month. Parle has denied that the product was recalled but said lactic acid was not harmful and used by confectionaries all over the world.

Lactic acid is used as food-preservant and its mild acidic taste gives it sour flavour. It is non-volatile odorless and is classified under GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by FDA in the US. It is a very good preservative and pickling agent. Addition of lactic acid aqueous solution to the packaging of poultry and fish increases their shelf life. In India, its usage in food industry was allowed but within certain limits.

In fact, FICCI has asked for more clarity on the issue two years ago. Since there is variation in certain standards which are conflicting and contradictory, industries use varied levels of acidulants made from lactic acid. For instance, usage of Acidulants in chewing gum and bubble gum was omitted from main ingredients list and put in a different Table (13)(G).

However, regulation 3.1.12 allows different limits of acidulants for “miscellaneous foods”. In new table 13(G) L(+)Lactic acid is not incorporated, while in regulation 3.1.12 L(+) lactic acid is allowed “as an Acidulant in miscellaneous foods” at GMP level and Miscellaneous food is not specifically defined still, says the a FICCI report on the industry.

As both the above rules contradicts each other, a FICCI report sought more clarification on the ingredient’s use in different products.

The use of lactic acid (chiefly found in milk products) was banned in foodstuff after a court verdict found it not good for consumption for its tooth decaying side effects but has been allowed under India’s new Food Safety & Standard Act of 2006.

In the United States, the US FDA allowed it as an ingredient in food with no limitation other than current good manufacturing practice and is categorized it as generally recognized as safe (GRAS) as a direct human food ingredient is based upon its use:

(1) as an antimicrobial agent; a curing and pickling agent; a flavor enhancer; a flavoring agent and adjuvant; a pH control agent and a solvent.

(2) The ingredient is used in food, except in infant foods and infant formulas, at levels not to exceed current good manufacturing practice.

The raids by India’s FDA will provide an in-depth study of the safety usage of lactic acid in candies which are meant for children and elders alike.

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