Imagine you have just bought a fish from the market, but begin to worry that it might contain formalin. How are you going to check there and then if it is contaminated?
No worries. The solution is at hand. From now on, a mobile laboratory will be roaming Dhaka's kitchen markets and restaurants to instantly test food items to see if they are contaminated.
The mobile laboratory of the Bangladesh Food Safety Authority will take only five minutes to test for formalin and other chemicals in different food items. A test to identify if they contain heavy metals may take 5-8 hours though.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder inaugurated the Mobile Food Safety Laboratory at a city hotel on Tuesday.
At the inaugural ceremony, Benoit Glaud, the international lab expert of the Food and Agriculture Organization, performed a rapid demo food test. He has come to Bangladesh to train a team of three local technicians to run the lab.
Benoit mixed formalin with red grapes, rinsed them with water and collected a sample of the water in a test tube. He took a rapid test strip and soaked it in the water.
The strip turned blue within a minute, indicating that the fruit had formalin on it. The whole process took no longer than five minutes.
"Using this mobile lab, we can identify various chemicals such as formalin, pesticides, antibiotics and heavy metals in food. Based on the type of test, it will take between five minutes to eight hours to complete the entire process," said Benoit.
The mobile lab can test food items and produce results publicly which will create greater awareness as well as warn dishonest traders to refrain from adulterating food, he added.
Food Minister Sadhan Chandra Majumder said, "The mobile lab will take us one step forward in ensuring nutritious and unadulterated food."
The minister said it needs around Tk70 lakh to manufacture a mobile lab, and it will cost about Tk50 crore if 64 labs are produced for all the districts of the country.
"Nevertheless, we can reclaim the cost by checking food adulteration because fewer people will fall ill, and overall productivity will increase," he explained.
He also said he will help to get a project passed to manufacture 64 mobile labs if the national food safety regulator sends a proposal to the government.
The national food safety regulatory agency launched the mobile lab under a project named "Institutionalisation of Food Safety in Bangladesh for Safer Food", funded by the United States Agency for International Development.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations implemented the project in Bangladesh in collaboration with the Ministry of Food.
At the opening ceremony, Food Secretary Shahabuddin Ahmad was present as a special guest, with Bangladesh Food Safety Authority Chairman Syeda Sarwar Jahan in the chair.