The Kolkata Municipal Corporation (KMC) health officers on Tuesday began a food safety drive wherein they collected samples of raw and cooked chicken to send them for tests in the civic body laboratories to check for presence of any chemical substance that is being used for preservation purposes.

The civic body has started a food safety drive after it came to light that dead chickens are being injected and laced with formalin to keep them preserved.

The health officers are collecting samples of raw and cooked chicken and sending them to KMC laboratories in order to confirm the presence of formalin.

The chemical is reportedly used to preserve human corpses and could have serious impacts on human body on ingestion. A total of around 13 food safety officers divided into two teams on Tuesday visited areas of New Market and Ultadanga collecting samples of raw and cooked chicken.

A team of officers collected chicken samples from the ‘murgi patti’ in the New Market area. These chickens from livestock markets were stored in the refrigerator while some were kept outside preserved with ice blocks, claimed a KMC health officer.

Meanwhile, the team that went to Ultadanga collected cooked samples from popular food items. Mr Atanu Roy, food safety officer, said: “We have collected samples from cooked food items such as chicken biriyani and chicken curry.

Raw samples of chicken could not be collected on Tuesday from this area as most of the vendors and hotel workers claimed that chickens are supplied to them around 6:30 a.m.

However, we will continue our drive again tomorrow in this area. The samples that we collected on Tuesday are being sent to the laboratory for tests. If the results confirm the presence of formalin then we will initiate action against the vendors.”

Commenting on what impact the chemical could have on the human body, Dr Amitava Sarkar, general medicine expert, said: “Formalin acts as a chemical preservative. We use it in preservation of organs and human corpses.

It should not be used in items that are meant for consumption. Formalin is severely toxic when used in high amounts. On ingestion, it acts directly on the brain cells and could cause neurological disorder even leading to brain paralysis.

It could also damage lungs and cause severe respiratory problems. Since the dead chickens have to be transported to various places, it needs to be preserved.

Generally, cold chains are used for such preservation but since they are costly, formalin is being used by the suppliers to keep them preserved for long hours.

The chemical also removes any kind of foul smell from the dead chicken.” Mr Atin Ghosh, member mayor-in-council (MMIC), health, earlier said: “It has come to light that chickens are being injected or laced with the chemical substance, formalin, which makes the meat detrimental to human health on consumption.

We have received information that chickens are being laced with the substance in the districts of North and South 24-Parganas from where chickens are supplied to Kolkata.

Post examination of the samples in the KMC laboratories, if the presence of the chemical is detected, we will immediately initiate action against the concerned food vendors and the restaurants.

The street food vendors will be booked under the IPC Sections 272 and 273 while cases will be lodged against the restaurants under the FSSAI Act.”