CHIANG RAI – The Public Health Ministry has warned consumers to be aware of buying fresh food and vegetable at fresh markets as now use of formalin among vendors is increasing and could be hazardous to their health.
Vendors are found to use formalin to keep their merchandise fresh.
The ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Narong Sahametapat said formalin poses serious harm to both consumers and vendors due to severe side effects associated with the chemical.
He said formalin is a solution containing 40% formaldehyde.
Health officials found the use of the corpse-preserving substance at five fresh and weekly markets in Nakhon Sawan late last month.
According to him the Department of Health officials collected 275 food samples from two fresh markets and three weekly markets in Nakhon Sawan Muang district, Thatako and Chum Saeng districts.
They found that 102 samples or 37% contained formalin. At major fresh markets, formalin was found in as many as 59% of collected samples.
They said foods that were found to be contaminated included squid, shrimp, chopped ginger, chopped finger root, straw mushrooms, grey oyster mushrooms, black mushrooms, long beans and oak-leaf ferns.
The permanent secretary said he has ordered health officials to locate the sources of formalin use and take action against these vendors.
Formalin was prohibited from use on food. Its use posed dangers to both consumers and vendors because the substance was lethal and carcinogenic.
At the same time, director-general of the Department of Health Dr Porntep Siriwanarangsun said the detection of formalin use by food vendors showed that they are turning from sodium hydrosulfite to formalin to preserve fresh food.
Formalin is a clear liquid and its vapor could harm almost all systems of the human body. Its acidic properties destroy cells. Vendors exposed to low levels of formalin vapor will suffer eye and respiratory irritation. Those heavily exposed to formalin risk serious breathing difficulties, lung inflammation, pulmonary congestion and even death.
The tests focus on six hazardous substances known for use on fresh food, namely borax, sodium hydrosulfite, pesticides, salicylic acid, formalin and salbutamol.
He said consumers of food with high formalin content will experience severe headache, chest pains and stomachache, vomiting and diarrhea.
But he advised that consumers could test vegetables for formalin by smelling their leaves or breaking their stems and smelling them.
If they have a strong smell and cause irritation, they should not buy them.
Meat with a strong smell should not be bought either,” he said adding that consumers can remove formalin from vegetables by rinsing them for 5-10 minutes under running water or placing them for one hour in still water.
Health officials are testing samples of foods nationwide to check for hazardous contamination. Cancer continues to be the most common cause of death among Thai people and consumption of hazardous foods is one cause.