Last Updated on September 3, 2021 by The Health Master
Ahmedabad: If you thought that employing food tasters to test for poison was a kingly practice long abandoned, then think again.
Protocol demands that food offered to VVIPs including foreign dignitaries, Union ministers and chief ministers, are tasted for unintentional contamination or intentional poisoning. Since risking human lives like this is an anachronism in the 21st century, the National Forensic Sciences University (NFSU) is developing a kit that can detect a wide range of contaminants and poisons in under 10 minutes.
The kit is expected to be ready by January 2022.
Dr J M Vyas, vice-chancellor of NFSU, said that several states had approached the university, seeking chemical reaction-based rapid kits that would help law-enforcement agencies and other government arms conduct on-the-spot testing on food. “It is perhaps the first of its kind project for food forensics and other disciplines,” he said.
Dr Jayrajsinh Sarvaiya, senior assistant professor, leads the team of experts developing the kits which include identification of contaminants and poisons in food, identification of narcotics, and identification of adulterants in milk, fertilizer, etc. using the principles of chemical reaction.
How do the kits work? Dr Sarvaiya said that every chemical substance reacts to another chemical. “For example, the cyanide test will turn violet if the food sample has that particular poison. If the food has alkaloid contamination, it will give off a dark blue colour.
The method includes a miniature centrifuge in which the samples are kept. Once the samples settle, the residue is tested against chemicals to check the reaction,” he said.
He added that the tests have been designed keeping in mind the time factor. “The kits can test for about 40-odd poisons and contaminants, covering almost the entire gamut known to investigating agencies and forensic scientists.
The tests can identify the substances within 10 minutes,” said Dr Sarvaiya. This will also save time as food tasters usually consume the food at least 30 minutes before it is served to dignitaries.
The kits would also include paper strips treated with chemicals that can be used to test the given samples. NFSU officials said that the other kits would also identify contaminants from given samples of milk or fertilizers using a similar method. But in such cases, the chemicals employed would different based on the known impurities and harmful substances such as organophosphorus traces.
A senior state police official, on condition of anonymity, said that food testing is always an integral part of the contingent to ensure safety of the VVIPs.
“Given the high number of public events like Vibrant Gujarat summit that Gujarat hosts, a team is always deployed at the venues and at the kitchens. A chemical kit like this would surely reduce the chances of human errors, if any,” said the official.