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Most maida dangerous as diabetes causing chemicals used for processing
Monday, 16 May, 2016, 08 : 00 AM [IST]
Pushkar Oak, Mumbai
Several maida processing units in the country are found to be using alloxan, a banned substance by FSSAI, to achieve a soft texture to the maida. Although alloxan is banned by FSSAI sometime back, there are no published scientific studies which have mandated it as a hazard.

In this regard, recently, a public interest litigation (PIL) was filed with the Madras High Court alleging that alloxan (a chemical), which is known to induce diabetes, is mixed with white flour or ‘maida.’ K Rajendran, a resident of Thethakudi South of Vedaranyam taluk, had approached the court seeking a direction to the authorities to act on a representation he made to ban mixing of alloxan with the white flour.

In view of this, the first bench of chief justice S K Kaul and Justice M M Sundresh has directed FSSAI (Food Safety and Standards Authority of India) to assess the maida or white flour from the flour mills and submit a report on the same within three months. The PIL was disposed of by the High Court as the applicant was not an expert on the subject, nevertheless, the court sought clarity on the issue from FSSAI officials.

According to the petitioner, the chemical alloxan is used to induce diabetes in animals for research purposes. Further, consuming food made of flour that contains alloxan kills beta cells of pancreas and consequently affects production of insulin, resulting in diabetes.

Poorna Chandran, independent consultant, Salem, Tamil Nadu, reveals, “In a wheat grain there are two parts - bran and endosperm. Maida is made from the endosperm of the wheat grain. This part is grinded and bleached with benzoyl peroxide to form a white powder. This is further mixed with alloxan (chemical) to form maida. This process makes maida very soft. To make it more attractive and appealing, such chemicals are being used while processing flours. Alloxan has shown some serious health risks of raising sugar levels on consumption in diabetes patients.”

Chandran added that in some cases, manufacturers use bleaching agents above prescribed limits especially chlorine gas, which leads to alloxan formation making maida more softer.

Chemicals used

Maximum limits (max)

Benzoyl peroxide

Potassium bromate

Ascorbic acid

40 p.p.m. 

20 p.p.m. 

200 p.p.m 

*Maximum limits for chemicals used in bleaching maida

However, P Gunasekaran, president, Tamil Nadu Roller Flour Mills Association, clarified that the allegations with regards to alloxan use in maida processing were more about bleaching agents like benzoyl peroxide which on overuse caused growth of alloxan traces in the maida.

Meanwhile, Anuj Gupta, manager, operations, Satyam Roller Flour Mills Pvt. Ltd, Mumbai, stated, “Alloxan will only occur if maida is processed chemically. If maida is processed with some natural recognised methods like using natural atmospheric oxygen with sunlight, the traces of alloxan which appear in the maida could be excluded. Usage of chemicals invite formation of alloxan as it is a minor product of xanthophyll oxidation process in the flour which is responsible for its yellow colour.”

He added, “There are natural methods of tapping natural oxygen in the atmosphere where you need no chemicals. If chemicals are to be used, their use should be subjected to the prescribed levels.”
While use of chemicals in processing of maida seems to be rampant in the country what is alarming is the result of using such products as a raw material in processed foods. For instance, Chandran from Salem pointed out, “90% of the bakery items are made from maida. Unorganised bakery is a hub for most of the dangerous chemicals. One of the examples is colours in bakery food products, need mix of different chemicals. The same chemical (petroleum byproduct) is used in paint manufacturing industry. Other chemicals used with maida are mineral oil, taste makers, ajinomoto, preservative, dalda, saccharin, sugar etc. The list goes on.”

As for the row over whether alloxan was added or occurred naturally due to bleaching of maida, a Kerala based bakery consultant explained, “Alloxan is not a bleaching agent which can be used to bleach flour but it is a byproduct caused by bleaching flour. Flour is bleached most popularly by use of benzoyl peroxide or treated with chlorine gas, to enable certain changes in colour and the texture. Bleaching is allowed in India but under prescribed levels. As for the controversy that surrounds the levels of alloxan present in flour, some say it is extremely harmful and some disagree. In any case, hard proof for it is not available as yet but research is still on.”

Lastly, petitioner Rajendran claimed that he filed an RTI application to know the truth whether the chemical was mixed in the flour. Since there was no response from the authorities, he was compelled to approach the court.
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