India's food safety regulator, Food Safety and Standard Authority in India (FSSAI), has set the prescribed limit of iron filings in loose or packaged tea powder at 150 milligrams per kilogram.
FSSAI issued a notification on April 22, 2016, saying that the draft prescribing a limit of not more than 150 mg/kg of iron filings in tea had been approved. FSSAI had invited feedback from various stakeholders by putting up on the official website its proposal of fixing a limit for iron filings in tea.
The regulatory body has directed enforcement officials in all the states and Union Territories to implement the directive till the issuance of the final notification in this regard.
The presence of iron filings in tea is attributed to the tea-manufacturing method, which may result in iron particles being released from machinery into tea grains as the leaves are crushed and processed.
Even as factories use huge magnets to separate iron filings from tea powder, the presence of these particles in packaged or loose tea products has not been ruled out by experts.
The government directive fixing the limit of iron filings in India was caught up in a row, with traders demanding that the iron limit in tea be fixed at 500 mg/kg, the Times of India reported.
However, the government asked the Hyderabad-based National Institution of Nutrition (NIN) to conduct a study on the presence of iron filings in tea.
The NIN recommended the prescribed limit of iron filings at 150 mg/kg, while observing that the presence of zero iron in tea is not possible.
There are currently no regulations that direct tea-makers to mention the iron contamination in tea products on labels.
The iron filings limit in tea in many developed countries has been fixed at 120 mg/kg, though in poorer countries the limit is 500mg/kg.
"Iron in human bodies carries oxygen for haemoglobin. But any overload can be a causative factor in liver cirrhosis, osteoporosis, scurvy, diabetes, heart failure, oesophageal cancer and infections," an internal medicine expert was quoted as saying by the TOI.