The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) have issued draft standards prescribing the maximum limit of iron filings in tea at 150 milligram per kilogram of tea. Through its direction dated 22 April, 2016 the FSSAI has invited comments and suggestions from all stakeholders. In this regard the FSSAI has also directed the enforcement officials in all States and Union Territories to implement these standards prescribing the limit of iron filings in tea till the final notification is published.
Prior to this the FSSAI had issued a statutory advisory in November 2013, where the tea manufacturers were asked to limit iron filing in tea to150mg per kg till the final decision on the safety parameters could be taken. The government had asked the National Institution of Nutrition (NIN) at Hyderabad to conduct a study on the safety limits of iron filings in tea before the Food Authority’s relevant panel made an assessment. Traders in both loose tea and packaged tea powder had to deal with rejection of tea consignments if a higher than the permitted quantum of iron filings was found in their consignment.
Since quite a while now the tea traders have been pushing to increase the limit of iron filings in tea to 500mg per kg. This limit is way above the limit in developed countries where standards for tea filings are at 120mg per kilogram of tea. In some developing countries the limit is as high as 500mg per kilogram of tea while in neighbouring Sri Lanka, which is also a tea producer the limit stands at 200mg per kg of tea.
It is not possible to have a zero limit iron presence in tea because of the way tea is processed. Also there is no indication that there is deliberate iron filing adulteration in tea as the iron filings are reaching tea because of the use of iron meshes and rollers. Tea leaves are dried in sieves with iron meshes and crushed with iron rollers. Iron crushing machines could be releasing iron particles into the tea due to friction. Normally tea manufacturers use huge magnets to remove the iron particles but it is possible that the very tiny particles of iron escape the magnet and remain in the tea.
It seems that after the NIN recommendation, the FSSAI’s scientific panel have now approved of the limit of 150 milligram per kilogram of iron filings in tea whether lose or packaged. This limit has been fixed because excess iron can easily accumulate in the human body and is then difficult to expel. Though iron is good for health, excess intake by consumers through foods can lead to simple health problems like loose motion or stomach ache or more serious problems like cancer and cardiac problems. Tea manufacturers and tea traders will have to follow this standard for limit of iron filings in tea and will have to wait and see if there are any changes in the final published gazette notification.