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TN, Puducherry ban sale of cotton candy over use of carcinogenic substance
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TN, Puducherry ban sale of cotton candy over use of carcinogenic substance

The coloring agent Rhodamine-B, a carcinogenic, is used widely to make processed foods attractive and addictive
Any food that has florescent colors such as green, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue, are to be avoided.
If you keep on eating candies every time you visit the beach, you are at higher risk of getting cancer due to increased dose of carcinogen.

The sweet taste of cotton candy, which is nostalgic to our childhood memories, will now remind us of cancer. Following the confirmation over cotton candy containing cancer-causing chemicals by Tamil Nadu government Food Analysis Laboratory, the state government of Tamil Nadu has banned the confectionery from February 17 onwards. Prior to this, Puducherry had also banned the sale of cotton candy on February 9.

Earlier this month, the state government had conducted a series of raids to assess the quality of soft candy/candy floss samples sold. The lab tests revealed that mouth savoring, colorful confectionery contained a chemical compound, Rhodamine-B, a textile dye that is labelled carcinogenic. Following the lab report’s findings, the move to ban was declared, based on the provisions of Food Safety and Standards Act 2006, confirming that the confectionery was substandard and unsafe food for consumption.

Tamil Nadu health minister, MA Subramanian emphasized that as per the Act, preparation, packaging, importing, selling, serving food articles with Rhodamine-B is a punishable offense.

What is Rhodamine-B?

Rhodamine-B is an artificial colouring agent that gives cotton candy the color of pink, blue and green. “The powdered form of the chemical Rhodamine-B is in green colour and it turns pink after being added to water. It is a carcinogenic used widely in the food industry to make them attractive and addictive,” said Dr Anitha Ramesh, consultant oncologist, Apollo Spectra Hospital, Chennai.

Dr Ramesh said that the chemicals cause cancer once it enters our body through the stomach and also result in liver dysfunction. “Carcinogenic is a substance that induces itself to undergo certain changes and mutations and affect our body in the longer run,” she said.

She added that the chemical is not found only in cotton candy but also in processed foods such as colored candies, red chilies, chili powder, tomato ketchup or sauce and sweeteners.

Other harmful effects of Rhodamine-B

The chemical also affects the peripheral tissue connected to the brain and the spinal cord, which results in functional abnormality, says Dr Ramesh. “Apart from cancer, the chemical can cause liver dysfunction, and cerebral dysfunction. This damage can affect one’s motor functioning,” she said, adding that it can also cause eye problems when consumed regularly.

Most children are exposed to a lot of processed food with a lot of artificial ingredients that are carcinogenic due to lack of awareness, said Dr Vinay Munikoty Venkatesh, consultant pediatric hematology and oncology, Manipal Hospital, Yeshwanthpur, Bangalore. “It’s always a good practice to look at the ingredients on the food packaging before giving it to the children. If there are added flavors or colors and chemical names that are given with numbers, which makes it complicated for common people, it’s better to read about it before purchase or avoid purchasing it,” he added.

Dr Venkatesh stresses that processed food contains more of these coloring agents that make it more appealing. “It is not just a cancer-causing substance but also an artificial chemical that affects the stomach and upsets it. When we say cancer, it is more likely for the public to avoid which is good to bring awareness,” he said.

Signs and symptoms

Some of the common neurological symptoms are:

  • Memory loss
  • Inflammation of face
  • Allergic reactions/ hives
  • Confusion
  • Breathlessness

Damage happens over the years

“These signs will not appear immediately but when the substance is taken in increased dose or consumed for a long period, it would start showing signs. If you keep on eating candies every time you visit the beach, you are at higher risk of getting cancer due to increased dose of carcinogen,” said Dr Ramesh.

Dr Venkatesh said that natural foods without added chemicals are good. “Parents should be careful with what children are eating. It is not that once you eat and you’ll get cancer but the small incremental doses that can induce cancer,” he said.

Any food that has florescent colors such as green, pink, orange, red, yellow, blue, are to be avoided, said Dr Ramesh. She says that these coloring agents are used to attract people especially in candies, biryani and rice. “ It is not as carcinogenic as tobacco but it has cancer potentiality,” she mentioned.

Dr Venkatesh says, “As a childhood cancer specialist, we don’t relate any childhood cancer to a particular chemical that induces cancer but these are all lifestyle cancers. There is no data which says that these chemicals cause childhood cancer but it should be avoided.”

According to him, the government should take firm steps in scrutinizing non-healthy chemicals that are added in food products and ban them. “Anything that is made more colorful and attractive through food colors should be avoided. Processed food with unnatural color and artificial ingredients may have this chemical and hence it is good to avoid,” he said.

He cautioned that foods that are not packaged and not scrutinized by the food industry must be avoided, especially the ones that are prepared locally with sub-standardized materials.

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