The Myanmar public is still being exposed to certain harmful dyes used in food, authorities say. Despite public awareness about food safety some people still don’t know the dangers of food colored with harmful artificial dyes.
Apart from making the food colorful and more appetizing, dyes have no nutritional value. But food sellers continue to use them, including in such basic ingredients as tea leaves, preserved fish, chili powder, seasoning powder, jams, lentils, and bamboo shoots.
In Mandalay, the Mandalay City Development Committee, township health departments, and the Consumer Affairs Department succeeded in ridding Mandalay’s Zay Cho market of harmful dyes in July after a concerted effort that took more than two years.
At first, there was strong resistance among shop owners, but the efforts of the committee and health departments to educate the public and penalize and close food shops found to be using chemical dyes finally bore results.
In 2016, 163 shops signed a pact not to sell food products containing harmful dyes, and a year later 86 more shops took the pledge, leaving only 20 shops that have not signed the pact.
Yet despite the declaration in July this year that Zay Cho was dye-free, city personnel found eight shops selling chili powder and dried shrimp containing harmful dyes.
“We will continue raising the pressure this year. In addition to Zay Cho, we will start implementing the program in six other big markets in the city. We will check all markets,” said U Kyaw Kyaw, deputy director of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) office in Mandalay.
This year, city and FDA personnel will begin regular inspections of Sayar San and Nan Shay markets in Aung Myay Tharzan township, Yadanarbon market in Chan Aye Tharzan Township, Phayargyi market in Maha Aung Myay township,
Taguntaing market in Pyigyitagun township, and Myayinandar market in Chan Mya Tharsi township.
Food containing illegal coloring will be confiscated and those responsible will face legal action, said FDA Mandalay’s chief officer, U Thant Zin Htet.
“People should be careful when buying food. There are many side effects of dyes,” he said.
There are natural and artificial dyes. The former is produced from plants and fruit, have few side effects but are expensive, so producers prefer artificial dyes, only some of which are legal.
The most commonly used illegal food dyes are auramine O (yellow), rhodamine B (red), Sudan dyes (red) and orange II.
People illegally use dyes for thread, wool, silk, paper, leather, and shoes in food products such as tea leaves, fish paste, chili powder, and candied fruit.
These chemicals can stunt growth, damage the liver and kidney, and cause cancer, stomach swelling, nausea, vomiting, and affect the brain and nervous system.
“They are mainly found in ngapi (preserved fish), chilies and bamboo shoots,” said U Kyaw Kyaw.
“The inspections are carried out unannounced, so we are satisfied with the results and the improvement we are seeing. There is less dyed food in the market today,” said U Kyaw San Myint of the MCDC.