Through a notification dated 19 May 2016, the FSSAI has issued an order regarding the inspection of tea factories to ensure that they are making all efforts to be in compliance with the recommended iron filing content. In April the FSSAI had issued draft standards prescribing that iron filings in tea must not exceed the maximum limit of 150 milligram per kilogram of tea.
Recently the FSSAI has been conducting large scale analysis of Tea for determining the amount of iron filing content in tea. On carrying out the tests FSSAI discovered that there were wide variations in test results because of a number of reasons. Since there have been so many variations in test results, the FSSAI feels that it would not be appropriate to rely on the recently conducted test results for iron filings in tea and so testing tea from retail stores would not be appropriate till such time as the method for assessment is finalised.
Therefore the FSSAI has asked the State Enforcement Authorities to carry out inspections in tea factories rather than in the retail outlets to ensure that FBOs involved in the manufacture, processing of tea are operating with the requisite equipment for the removal of iron filings in tea that get into the tea during the processing.
About iron filing removal process
Iron filings in CTC tea comes from the CTC cutter used for manufacturing CTC tea. This is so because the cutter needs to be sharpened or teethed, as it is called, and this sharpening process leaves filing residues in tea. Also fresh green tea leaves are dried in a sieve fitted with a mesh and the leaves are cut using iron rollers. This process also leaves iron filings in tea. The normal wear and tear of machinery also causes iron filings to mix with the tea leaves. The iron filings are removed with the use of a magnet and the filings that stick to the magnet are then removed manually. This method is not very satisfactory but small tea growers cannot afford to buy the new kinds of machines that are now in the market for removing iron filings and so they continue with this processing method.
India is the world’s second largest tea producer of tea and in 2015-16 about 1,213 million kg of tea was produced. India shipped tea worth Rs.4, 200 crore in 2015-16 which was 10 percent higher than the previous fiscal. However, the global market is worried about the presence of iron filings in tea and therefore the challenge to remove the iron filings at the source is becoming important. The presence of excess iron filings is also seen as a form of contamination that increases the bulk and weight of the tea hence it is important to reduce iron filings to the permitted levels.
The Tea Board of India has also decided to keep a close watch on tea filings so that the quality of tea remains superior. It will be collecting samples from all over the country from time to time to ensure that the set standards are being maintained.