Recent media reports of sale of plastic rice have caused wide spread panic and sense of fear especially in some southern states of India. Among them are the rumours of alleged sale of plastic rice at some grocery stores of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh causing fear among the people. Two days after a customer allegedly found plastic rice being used at a food stall in Saroornagar in Hyderabad, another customer from Meerpet, made a similar complain to the police. By the evening, task force officials of the civil supplies department raided the shop in Meerpet and seized samples which are now being examined. Meanwhile, rumours went viral on social media that plastic rice was being sold on a large-scale at various stores in Andhra Pradesh triggering panic among the public.
What is plastic rice?
Quite literally, it would be rice made of plastic. At this point, while rumours do round, there is no definite proof if such a product is being illegally made. However, there have been unproven reports in the past that plastic rice were made in China and also exported to Western countries. In fact, some reports even said that the Chinese food producers were making plastic rice with a mixture of potatoes, sweet potatoes, and plastic. All these were rumours. There was no proof.
Why would anyone produce plastic rice?
Yes, it makes no sense. India is one of the largest producers of rice in the world. It also heavily exports rice to other countries. If plastic rice really existed, it would require manufacturing units. Since there is no point producing rice in small quantities, it would mean setting up manufacturing cells which would cost substantial investment. Plus, this would be an illegal operation. All this would possibly mean plastic rice would be more expensive than actual rice and fraught with risks. But stranger things than this have happened before. There have been unconfirmed reports in the past of eggs being made of plastic and milk being made of detergent powder.
Is plastic rice fear unfounded?
It could be, but we need to wait till food authorities offer more clarity. The authorities, according to media reports, are looking into the complaints. At this point, they too seem to be a little dumbstruck by the rumours on the social media. “We also came to know about plastic or fake rice through media and social networking sites. We have not received any instructions from our higher-ups so far on this issue, but locally I am sending four food inspectors to check rice with the main rice traders in Visakhapatnam,” one of the officials told the Times of India. Meanwhile, Telangana Civil Supplies officials have reportedly collected samples and are awaiting lab reports. Rumours, such as plastic rice, are likely to spread fast on social media. This could just be the case.
How to check if your rice is made of plastic?
Even though there is no definite proof of the existence of plastic rice, there are tips going viral on social media of how to identify plastic rice. They include a water test, oil test and boiling test. Here’s what these tips say:
Oil test: Take a tablespoon of raw rice and heat it into oil. If the rice grains melt and stick together at the bottom of the vessel, then the situation is alarming.
Boiling test: While boiling the rice, if it contains plastic it will start forming a thick layer at the top of the vessel.
Water Test: As rice does not float in water, you can identify the plastic one easily. Take a glass of water and drop a tablespoon of raw rice inside and stir it for some time. If the rice float then it is not suitable for eating.
Fire test: Get a lighter and burn a handful of rice – If it catches fire and smells like burnt plastic, it is fake.
The Fungus Test: After boiling the rice, put some of it in a bottle and leave it for 3 days. If mould does not appear, then your rice is fake, Plastic rice will not grow mould in any weather conditions.
If required, as already stated further analysis can be done at Regional Food Laboratories. However please ensure that rumour mongering is curtailed and fears in the minds of public are dispelled.
Even as the reports are yet to be verified, officials in the state are taking no chances. The department of weights and measures (W&M) is planning to keep a tab on this novel method of rice adulteration by forming a special enforcement team.
‘Plastic rice rumours are fake news,’ says Telangana government
CSD termed these reports as creation of social media and urged consumers not to believe in such rumours. The civil supplies department, on Wednesday rubbished reports, that plastic rice was being sold in the state, especially in GHMC limits. It termed these reports as ‘fake and baseless’ and a creation of social media and urged consumers not to believe in such rumours. Videos and pictures have been circulating on social media of the sale of plastic rice in the city for the last three days, forcing the department to order an inquiry into the issue.
Commissioner of civil supplies, C.V. Anand, said on Wednesday that preliminary tests of the samples collected from places from where the complaints had been received revealed that there was no plastic material in the rice. He said that the tests were conducted in the laboratory of the civil supplies corporation, but samples have also been sent to the state food laboratory for more stringent chemical tests and the department will place all the facts before the public once that report is received. Despite this, he said, the civil supplies department, enforcement officials and vigilance department has been put on high alert, which will conduct raids on rice mills and godowns across the state to collect samples and conduct tests. Mr Anand added that the department has given guidelines to officials and staff through videos on what plastic rice looks like and how to recognise it if it is mixed with genuine rice. Rice millers have also been made aware. Mr Anand said the tests in the civil supplies laboratory were conducted in the presence of quality control analyzer Osman Moinuddin, general manager Jayadev Singh, and assistant manager (technical) G. Saidulu.
The civil supplies enforcement department collected samples from the mill about which a complaint had been received by the Meerpet police station on Tuesday, and also from the complainant. Both samples were sent for testing. Physical analysis and D-husk test was first conducted on the samples. The rice was then soaked in water for some time. If the rice was made of plastic it should float on water but no signs of floating were observed. Further, the cooked rice samples became like paste as usually happens when normal rice is cooked. Later, rice balls were made out of the cooked suspect rice and when they hit the floor, they bounced like rubber balls, which is exactly what happened with the normal cooked rice. “Rice from the complainant and normal rice were cooked at the same time and the result was the same in both cases. Rice from the complainant and the rice mill from where the rice was supplied to the dealer were not plastic rice,” Mr Anand said.
Karnataka Minister also says people with ‘Vested Interest’ are spreading Plastic Rice ‘Rumours’
Karnataka Food and Civil Supplies Minister U T Khader said no such case has been reported so far in the state. “People need not panic on hearing such baseless reports. Some vested interests are spreading rumours apparently to defame the Anna Bhagya scheme of the state government, which was being successfully implemented,” he told reporters on Saturday. The minister, however, said a probe has been ordered into the matter. Rice was being distributed through Food Corporation of India under Anna Bhagya scheme and over 2.77 lakh metric tonnes of rice was required every month, he noted. While the cost of an egg was Rs. 5, its plastic replica would cost at least Rs. 100, he added. Meanwhile, in an article released to the press, Federation of Indian Rationalists Association president Narendra Nayak also echoed similar views. He said it was the ‘organic-yoga lobby’ which was circulating such rumours. “While good quality rice sells at around 40 per kg, the rates for plastic rice are not less than 120 per kg and added to that the labour, wastage and all the factors that go into manufacturing and one will wonder as to why anyone would try to make profits by making plastic rice,” he said.
Although all state governments are taking necessary steps to verify the news of ‘Plastic Rice’ wherever it’s emerging from, it is most likely a rumor menace. They are appealing to people to be vigilant and cautious but there is absolutely no need to worry. Since plastic rice is not commercially viable, it is therefore believed that this problem would soon be sorted out.