DHAKA - As a consumer, you need to ensure that you and your family practise safe eating, especially during Ramadan as the consumption of many unsafe food items increases amidst a change in the consumption pattern.
First of all, try to avoid street food. Streetside vendors practise recycling low-grade cooking oil for frying. Also, we all know the unhygienic environment under which many of these foods are prepared and displayed.
'Chola boot' is always a must-have item during iftar. This food can be said to be quite safe, depending on the quality of cooking oil and the level of hygiene maintained. Beguni, another popular iftar item, often has harmful colour pigment applied to attract consumers. If you don't see the natural yellowish colour of beshon that a fried food should have, walk away.
The use of chemicals for colouring and preservation is wildly rampant in the sweetmeat shops. Jilapi is a food engraved in our culinary culture. If the colour is light reddish, it is probably alright for your consumption.
An important factor most of us forget is the packet in which we carry the food. Avoid the usage of paper; the heat and oil are likely to bring out toxic substances like carbon and lead found in ink. It's also a helpful reminder when at home you want to fry and soak oil out of the food.
One of our favourite items, haleem, is also not free of health hazards. Cases of low and deteriorating meat being used in haleem have been seen many times before. It would be best if you can simply cook at home; if not, be careful. On the other hand, puffed rice should be reddish off-white in colour. Avoid puffed rice that are completely white.
Many people prefer breaking their fast with dates, but even this fruit is not spared from formalin use. Meanwhile, a lot of mangoes this year have been found containing formalin (even though this is the season for mangoes). When you go to buy fruits, see whether flies are buzzing around. No matter how contradictory it sounds, this is a good sign - no chemicals or preservatives were used. Look for the same symptom when buying fish.
The texture and hardness can also be checked by an experienced buyer to try to understand whether chemicals were used. For example, the skin of papaya will usually have random sporadic ripened areas if a harmful chemical was used. Nevertheless, whether it's fish or fruit you are buying, it's always a good idea to soak the food in water for around 30 minutes and wash and rinse it properly; you can get rid of a large amount of formalin used.
If you're still not satisfied, you may want to buy a formalin kit from Bangladesh Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (BCSIR), popularly known as 'Science Laboratory'. Prices of these kits are quite reasonable.
Bangladesh Standards and Testing Institution (BSTI) can test samples. Another option is taking your sample to Dhaka University's Soil, Water and Environment Department, where they will perform these tests. For more information on Dhaka University's food sample tests, you can call 01819227377.
Be safe and have a happy Ramadan!