Delhi's traders often source their produce from hundreds of kilometers away. In India, where highways are often potholed and jammed with traffic, and where storage facilities are primitive, up to 40 percent of perishable food rots before it can be sold.
Traders cannot buy fruit such as apples or mangoes when they are already ripe, because these would go to waste during the bumpy, un-refrigerated journey from the orchards. Instead, they buy the fruits and later ripen them with calcium carbide, a substance colloquially known as "masala", or "spice".
Using the white powder reduces a ripening process that normally takes weeks to a matter of hours.
Traders are also tempted to polish or dip fruit in artificial colors to make its appearance fresh for sale.
"The ones that shine are the rotten ones," said Ramdular, who has sold in Delhi's Azadpur Mandi for decades. "Looks good to the eyes, but ends up bad for the stomach."
Some traders at the market were willing to discuss such practices openly. Others only alluded to it in winks and nods.
"He's taken your picture, so you're going to have to shut shop now!" one trader shouts teasingly to another as a Reuters photographer clicked away among the fruit stalls.
Glass Half Full?
Authorities in Delhi and elsewhere say they are cracking down on safety violations, from fining culprits to conducting surprise raids of food outlets. Raids are especially important during festivals, when bad batches of items such as sweetened milk or flour can send hundreds of people to hospital.
"The Delhi government is already working towards tackling this situation and now that we've picked up this report, the government will take hastier steps to tackle the situation," A.K. Walia, the state's health minister, said about the FSSAI's report on milk adulteration.
But enforcing India's food safety laws is a tough task.
"You can say that our laws are very good, but the implementation is very weak," said N.C. Basantia, director of the Delhi-based Avon Food Lab, which tests samples on behalf of government authorities.
Delhi, a city of 17 million people, has just 32 food safety officers and their job is all the harder because traders often see attempts to clamp down on bad practices as an attack on their livelihoods.
"Whenever the department gets active, there is a hue and cry in the market," a second safety official said.
Even assessing the scale of India's food safety problem has been controversial. After the FSSAI published its survey on milk adulteration in January, state government after state government spoke out to deny the scale of the problem in their region.
On the other hand, Basantia of Avon Food Lab said the samples he tested for the government may flatter to deceive.
"See, we can never be 100 percent sure about the food samples given to us, be it a private sector or a government study, because the samples aren't drawn by us," he said.
"Obviously the officials will give a very good sample to us, we'll test it and report it to them, whereas the rest of the lot that they plan to export or plan to distribute is probably all contaminated."
Despite all this, India's food safety record may actually be much better than it once was, largely because there is a growing awareness of the issue.
Indians are becoming more safety conscious thanks to higher literacy rates, clearer food packaging and a modernizing retail sector. An explosion in 24-hour TV news channels in the past decade means coverage of safety scandals can run for days.
The FSSAI may have given a gloomy picture of India's food industry, but the organization did not even exist before 2008, and is still in the process of upgrading laboratories with modern technology and training its staff.
India only has about 2,000 food safety officers — compared with the 6,000 the FSSAI hopes to hire and train, according to its new chairman K. Chandramouli. Its budget for this fiscal year is just $8 million, though it hopes to quadruple that in 2012/13.
"Milk contamination is not a new thing. It's been happening for a very long period of time," the CSE's Misra said. "Why it's created a furore now is because it's (the survey) been done by a food regulatory body."
"The government has said that your milk is adulterated. Now it's set an official seal on all these things that we already knew," she said.