Plastic Rice In The Market? Probably Not, Says Expert

Five days ago, a most unexpected claim was made at the Department of Food Technology and Quality Center’s office (DoFTQC) in Babarmahal, Kathmandu. A middle-aged man walked in and registered a complaint about ‘plastic rice.’ Nepal regularly faces problems of adulterated food and chemically ripened fruits in the market. But for an agrarian country where the majority of the people eat rice at least twice a day, ‘plastic rice’ would be a nefarious crisis.  Still, Nepal is not the first country to experience claims of ‘plastic rice.’

Rumours of the product have made the rounds recently in China, Nigeria, Kenya, and India. In early June, the Telangana Civil Supplies Department was flooded with queries about plastic rice cooked in hotels. Social Media was flooded with photos and videos showing balls allegedly made of fake rice.

In the interest of consumer safety, we checked in with experts.

Testing Underway:

Last week, the claimant met Madan Chapagain, an investigation officer and food technologist at DoFTQC, and showed him the food grains he had brought. He claimed that upon cooking this rice at home, it had turned into ball-like shapes similar to those in the videos he had seen.

“We took the rice sample and forwarded it for further investigation and lab tests,” Chapagain told Onward Nepal. Initially, the Center registered the complaint without alarm and sent it for tests along with other food samples. However, the case developed a sense of urgency after locals from Sano Bharyang, Swoyambhu, complained to the police that  a shop was allegedly selling the product. The shopkeeper was arrested.

“After the police complaint, we went to the shop on Wednesday and brought some rice samples for lab tests. We expect the results by Friday,” Chapagain explained.

Bottom Line:

“We have been doing market monitoring to check food quality in Kathmandu Valley, periodically. This is the first time I am hearing about plastic rice,” Sanjiv Karna, Director General at DoFTQC, told Onward Nepal.

He further claims that the rumour about plastic rice is not true, as it has not yet been proven scientifically. Unlike rice grains, plastic rice is indigestible.

“Plastics are indigestible polymer and separates from rice grains if cooked together,” Chapagain concurred.

There are more than 1,000 rice varieties, globally. As for ‘plastic rice’?

“It is very likely that the plastic rice thing is just a rumour, as was the case in India,” shared Chapagain.