Formalin-laced fish seized in Kerala: Everything you need to know about toxic substance

Formalin-laced fish seized in Kerala: Everything you need to know about toxic substance

Formalin is a toxic chemical which is used to preserve bodies and prevent its decay in mortuaries. It is derived from formaldehyde, a potential cancer-inducing chemical.

9600 kg of formalin-laced fish seized in Kerala: Here's everything you need to know about toxic substance
Fishes dead at Triambakeshwar. Express archive photo.

Nearly 10,000 kg of formalin-laced fish was seized at the border check post of Arayankavu in Kerala’s Kollam district, triggering panic among consumers in the major fish-eating state. A toxic chemical, formalin is used to preserve bodies and prevent its decay in mortuaries. Last night, the state food safety department officials intercepted a cargo of chemical-laced fish from Tuticorin in neighbouring Tamil Nadu at the check post.

The fish that arrived in two vehicles included 7000 kg of prawns and 2600 kg of other species. A total of 21,600 kg of fish with formalin had been seized after the launch of ‘Operation Sagar Rani’ till now. The Operation Sagar Rani is a drive to ensure safety and hygiene at fish handling and distribution centres, a release said.

Similarly, two days after a notification was issued in Nagaland prohibiting the sale of formalin-laced fresh fish products, the Kohima district administration seized such products treated with preservatives, from four vehicles, worth about Rs 10 lakh.

What is Formalin and how does it affect humans?

Formalin, a poisonous and anti-decomposition chemical agent, is used as an antiseptic, disinfectant and preservative in various items. It is derived from formaldehyde, which is a substance that is “carcinogenic to humans”. A substance that causes cancer or helps cancer grow is called a carcinogen. The continuous ingestion of formaldehyde can lead to many health issues including abdominal pain, vomiting, unconsciousness, and sometimes even cause death. The widespread use of the deadly chemical now-a-days in preservation of fish, fruit and other food items is posing a great threat to public health.

How do you spot it? 


Earlier this year, Union Agriculture Minister Radha Mohan Singh launched rapid detection kits, developed by Central Institute of Fisheries Technology in Kochi, for checking adulteration of fresh fish with formaldehyde and ammonia. While ammonia helps in preventing ice from melting, use of formaldehyde increases the shelf life of fish therefore many people in the fisheries sector are using these chemicals. The kits are handy and consist of simple paper strips, reagent solution, and standard chart for comparing results.

A person wanting to test the fish will just have to remove the strip and rub it on the fish. Then put one drop of solution on the paper strip and check if the colour changes. If it turns dark blue, then it means that the fish is contaminated. The colours are indicated on the package so that a consumer can get the result on the spot.