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All samples of Taiwanese food products pass maleic acid tests

All 20 samples of Taiwanese food products collected recently in the local market passed tests on maleic acid, according to the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) of the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department.

A spokesman for the CFS said today (June 17) that the CFS earlier noticed through its routine Food Incident Surveillance System that a food ingredient, modified starch, and some starch-based food products had been detected as containing a chemical, maleic acid, by the Taiwan authorities. The CFS immediately contacted the authorities concerned for more information and has taken follow-up actions, which included alerting the local food trade and conducting sales checks at retail shops to ascertain whether the affected products are available for sale in Hong Kong.

"So far, no affected batches of the food products known to be involved in this food incident were found to be available in the local market. Nonetheless, as a prudent measure to safeguard public health and food safety, the CFS took 20 samples of food products which may contain modified starches imported from Taiwan from different retail outlets for testing. The samples comprised rice vermicelli, bean vermicelli, wheat noodles and milk tea with pearl tapioca. All test results were satisfactory," the spokesman said.

Maleic acid and its related chemical, maleic anhydride, are multi-functional chemical intermediates with many industrial applications. It can also be used in food contact materials or as a precursor for the production of food additives.

According to the investigation by the Taiwan authorities, the food incident was linked to the abusive use of maleic anhydride during the production of modified starches, some of which were in turn used to manufacture food products.

"Animal studies have shown that maleic acid is not toxic to the genes, and is negative for reproductive and developmental toxicity. It also has a relatively low acute toxicity by the oral route of exposure. Nevertheless, effects on the kidney had been observed when experimental animals were fed with high doses of maleic anhydride. The risk of adverse health effects (e.g. kidney damage) to humans due to long-term exposure to high levels of maleic acid through the consumption of maleic acid-tainted foods cannot be totally excluded," the spokesman said.

The CFS will continue to liaise with the Taiwan authorities. It will closely monitor the developments of the incident and take appropriate actions as required.
Ends/Monday, June 17, 2013
Issued at HKT 19:15

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Last revision date: 17-06-2013