​Food safety officials seize 260 unhygienic and unlabeled water cans in Chennai in three days

Food safety officials say the number of unlicensed units selling water is likely to grow this summer as many licensed manufacturers have cut production because of depleting groundwater sources.
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Cracking the whip on supply of unsafe drinking water, the state's food safety officials have seized around 260 unhygienic and unlabeled water cans in the city in three days.

The drive began with four teams of officials from the department of food safety and drug administration being posted in and around Koyambedu, which is a gateway for units to ferry water cans from Tiruvallur district into the city. 

Fifteen vehicles were intercepted and 80 cans seized for having no labels. Water in around 30 containers was found to be unfit for consumption while some cans had other manufacturing issues.

The department undertook similar inspections in Koyambedu, Egmore, Saligramam and Korukkupet and seized 106 cans after stopping 29 vehicles.

R Kathiravan, Designated, Designated food safety officer, Chennai, said, "In the coming days, we will conduct raids at retail shops and other units that sell water."

The inspection comes close on the heels of a similar drive by Chennai Corporation's health department. Sanitary inspectors raided food stalls operating in unhygienic conditions and seized around 150 water cans, 12 water bottles and 7,000 sachets.

Food safety officials say the number of unlicensed units selling water is likely to grow this summer as many licensed manufacturers have cut production because of depleting groundwater sources.

K Rajaram, chairman of Greater Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Manufacturers Association, said the average treatment of packaged drinking water in most units had dipped by close to 15% in the last one month.

Officials say while contamination of water sold by licensed manufacturers ­ who are required to undertake at least four types of filtration ­ happens at the filling and packaging level, other violations, including misbranding and repeatedly reusing containers, happen at the distribution point.

N Murali, Patron, Tamil Nadu Packaged Drinking Water Association, said, "Only 10% of the manufacturers directly market the water. Most of us engage middlemen."

The stickers on the cans may be of one brand, but the water inside could be of another, or worse, it could be just tap water. The can may be refilled only 35 times, but sometimes they are overused, he acknowledged.

He said, "It is a concern for us, but it is not happening at an alarming level."

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