Something’s rotten: Food safety dept swings into action amid stale fish plaints

Food safety dept scales up surveillance due to growing complaints of stale fish in markets

Published: 21st April 2022 07:11 AM  |   Last Updated: 21st April 2022 07:14 AM   |  A+A-

The food safety officials conducting inspection at Sreekariyam fish market as part of a special drive | Express Photo

Express News Service

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: With complaints mounting on unsafe fish sold in the state, the food safety authorities launched a state-wide surprise inspection drive at fish markets across the state from Tuesday. The special drive has been launched following the recent complaints of stale fish being sold in Nedumkandam in Idukki. 

On Tuesday, the food safety authorities conducted surprise inspections at 329 places and 374 samples were collected from local fish markets across the state. The highest amount of stale fish was seized in Thiruvananthapuram. 

The food safety department has deployed night and day squads as part of scaling up surveillance to ensure the availability of safe fish for the public. A senior official of the Commissionerate of Food Safety told TNIE that the department has constituted special squads under every district office to conduct inspections at night auction markets, check posts and local markets in the state.  

Food safety officials conducting inspection
at Peroorkada fish market | Express Photo

In Thiruvananthapuram, around 1250kg of decayed tuna fish was seized and destroyed. In addition, 11kg of decayed tuna fish was seized from Kilimanoor market. “We seized around 50 boxes of decayed tuna fish from Nedumangad market. The seized fish stocks were handed over to the health authorities for destroying them properly. The fish was brought from Tamil Nadu and became stale because it was not being stored properly.  For storing 1kg of fish fresh, 1kg of ice is required. Because of the humid climate, the decaying of fish gets accelerated. The fish should be stored properly at markets. Unfortunately, the markets in Kerala have no adequate infrastructure,” said a senior official of the commissionerate. 

The authorities have collected surveillance samples from Amaravila check post and Panchimoodu market on day one of the drive. An official said the markets in Thiruvananthapuram including the night fish markets at Venjaramoodu, Kadambattukonam, TB Junction, Poovar and other day markets at Peroorkada, Kesavadasapuram, Maruthamkuzhy would be under scanner. 

Selling sand-laced sea fish is illegal. “The microbial content in the sand would make the fish stale and lack of awareness is one of the main issues we have come across. Hence, we are planning to give awareness classes to sensitise the fish vendors,” said the official.  It is learnt that post pandemic, many entrepreneurs have ventured into fish business. During 2021-22, the food safety department issued food safety registration to 15,780 outlets  and 3,850 food safety licences, while in 2020-21, 16,757 food safety registrations and 3,917 licences were issued. “The number of food safety registrations we have issued was more in the past two years compared to pre-pandemic times. Several new fish outlets have come up in the district post pandemic,” said the official. 

Testing kits unavailable 
Though the state government has launched special drives at fish markets, many of the district food safety offices are facing shortage or unavailability of testing kits for detecting contamination in fish. It is learnt that separate testing kits are available to detect formalin and ammonia in fish. 

“The testing kits give instant results and currently these are unavailable. We placed the order for the testing kits several days back. We need a minimum of two boxes having 100 strips each for each food safety circle. Last year, we procured around 15,000. There is nothing left. The consignment has to come from New Delhi and we have been told that it will arrive in three or four days,” said an official of the food safety department, Thiruvananthapuram. Each testing kit costs around Rs 400.

‘Local bodies should provide better infra’ 
According to estimates per month, fish consumption comes to around 80,000 tonnes in the state and the fish industry records a turnover of Rs 15,000 crore per annum. The annual per capita consumption in the state is I25kg Though fish being a staple food item for Keralites, the facilities and infrastructure at the market places are bare minimum or nil. “The vendors don’t keep the fish chilled throughout the day due to unavailability of storage mechanism or ice. The situation is worse at market places in panchayat areas. They bring fish from faraway places and other states and this fish is brought to the local market the next day and the chances of decaying is more. The local bodies should take efforts to provide better infrastructure in fish markets,” said an official.

Surprise checks

 329 inspections

329 samples collected 

203 samples tested using kits

171 samples sent for lab test

1,493 kg fish seized and destroyed  

How to identify fresh fish 

  • Smell will be pleasant and neutral
  • Bulging and shiny eyes 
  • Moist gills and fins 
  • Moist skin with a metallic glow


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