Food safety policy enforcement and associated actions reduce lead chromate adulteration in turmeric across Bangladesh

Turmeric adulterated with lead chromate pigment has been previously identified as a primary source of lead exposure in Bangladesh. This study assesses the impact of a multi-faceted intervention between 2017 and 2021 to reduce lead-tainted turmeric in Bangladesh.

Publication Type

Journal Article

Experts

Jenna E. Forsyth

Time Frame

2023

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Description

Turmeric adulterated with lead chromate pigment has been previously identified as a primary source of lead exposure in Bangladesh. This study assesses the impact of a multi-faceted intervention between 2017 and 2021 to reduce lead-tainted turmeric in Bangladesh. The intervention involved: i) disseminating findings from scientific studies via news media that identified turmeric as a source of lead poisoning, ii) educating consumers and businesspeople about the risks of lead chromate in turmeric via public notices and face-to-face meetings, and iii) collaborating with the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority to utilize a rapid lead detection technology to enforce policy disallowing turmeric adulteration. Before and after the intervention, evidence of lead chromate turmeric adulteration was assessed at the nation’s largest turmeric wholesale market and at turmeric polishing mills across the country. Blood lead levels of workers at two mills were also assessed. Forty-seven interviews were conducted with consumers, businesspeople, and government officials to assess changes in supply, demand, and regulatory capacity. The proportion of market turmeric samples containing detectable lead decreased from 47% pre-intervention in 2019 to 0% in 2021 (n=631, p<0.0001). The proportion of mills with direct evidence of lead chromate adulteration (pigment on-site) decreased from 30% pre-intervention in 2017 to 0% in 2021 (n=33, p<0.0001). Blood lead levels dropped a median of30% (IQR: 21-43%), while the 90th 42 percentile dropped 49% from 18.2 μg/dL to 9.2 μg/dL 16 months after the intervention (n=15, p=0.033). Media attention, credible information, rapid lead detection tools and swift government action to enforce penalties all contributed to the intervention’s success. Subsequent efforts should evaluate if this is an example of an effective intervention that can be replicated to reduce lead chromate adulteration of spices globally.

Additional information

Publication Type

Journal Article

Experts

Jenna E. Forsyth

Time Frame

2023