The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning consumers to avoid using 3.5-oz packages of sindoor sold under the "Swad" brand name imported by Raja Foods LLC of Skokie, Ill., USA, because the product is said to contain high levels of lead. Although the product was not intended to be sold for food use, its labeling is unclear and implies that it may be used as food. The Illinois Department of Public Health has reportedly confirmed two cases of lead poisoning in consumers who used the product as an ingredient in home-cooked meals.
Other uses of the product, including as a cosmetic, could also be dangerous due to the high lead levels. According to the FDA, lead can be toxic to all humans but due to the risks it poses to a developing nervous system, women of childbearing age, women who are pregnant and their unborn children, and young children should be especially cautious and limit their exposure to lead.
The FDA cautions that consumers who have consumed this product should consult his or her health care provider immediately. At least 280 packages of sindoor were distributed to grocery stores specializing in Indian foods in Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Tennessee, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, reported the FDA.
The front label of the bag states "SWAD BEST TASTE IN TOWN SINDOOR"; "FOR RECIPE IDEAS VISIT OUR WEBSITE: WWW.RAJAFOODS.COM"; and "PRODUCT OF INDIA." The back label states "Imported and Distributed by: Raja Foods, 8110, N. St. Louis Avenue, Skokie, ILL 60076," with a UPC of: 0 51179 42236 0 and may have a sticker stating "NONEDIBLE." The packages of sindoor can be returned to the place of purchase for a full refund. Consumers with questions may contact the company at 1-800-800-7923 x 2860. Consumers should report adverse events related to this product to MedWatch, the FDA’s voluntary reporting program, at: www.fda.gov/medwatch/report.htm, call 1-800-332-1088, fax 1-800-332-0178, mail MedWatch, Food and Drug Administration, 5600 Fishers Lane, Rockville, MD 20852-9787.
As a cosmetic, sindoor, a reddish powder, is used by married Hindu women and some Sikh women, according to reference.com. During the marriage ceremony, the groom applies sindoor to the parting in the bride's hair to show that she is now a married woman. Subsequent sindoor is applied by the wife as part of her dressing routine.
Most women purchase commercial sindoor powder of which a traditional component is powdered red lead. Alum and turmeric also are sometimes ingredients. While sindoor was the ancient name given to the very toxic, red mercury oxide, as a cosmetic its most common base is turmeric powder that becomes red when mixed with lime juice or lime powder (i.e., a calcium compound), moistened in water or with alum, iodine and camphor; or with oil and sea shell powder (calcium salts); or aguru, chandan and kasturi, adds reference.com. It can also be made of sandalwood mixed with musk, or from a mixture of saffron ground with kusumbha flower.
National Botanical Research Institute (NBRI) color experts, also according to reference.com, report that in ancient times, sindoor was made with a special type of red marble stone, covered with turmeric and a little oil that was left undisturbed for a few days, after which it turned into a red powder. However, these traditional preparations have long been forgotten and most modern cosmetic product manufacturers produce sindoor from synthetic materials, lead, zinc and industrial dyes. It is also called red lead (Pb3O4).