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Stevioside in Snacks

Background

Acting on information, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) conducted a blitz operation recently to check on stevioside in food products.

In Hong Kong, according to the Sweeteners in Food Regulations, Cap. 132U, stevioside is not permitted for use in food. There have been six prosecutions between May 2003 and March 2004 against products containing stevioside. The traders concerned were fined from $2,000 to $8,000. Furthermore, 23 food samples taken from January 2005 to September 2006 were analyzed for the presence of stevioside during the routine food surveillance programme. The results were satisfactory.

Action Taken by the CFS

The CFS has checked the labels of some 350 samples of a variety of food products (mainly Japanese snacks) in seven retail outlets for compliance. Of them, 10 food samples suspected to contain stevioside were collected for testing. Results showed that three samples of Japanese noodle snacks products from a retail outlet in Kowloon City contained stevioside. The products also did not have Chinese / English product names.

CFS has asked the retailers and importers to withdraw the concerned products and marked and sealed the remaining stocks of the concerned products for disposal.

What is Stevioside?

Stevioside, a major component of steviol glycoside, is a sweetener extracted from plants. The Joint Food and Agriculture Organization / World Health Organization Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) evaluated the safety of steviol glycoside in 2004. There is no safety concern upon normal consumption. However, JECFA raised concern about its potential pharmacological effects on certain population sub-groups such as persons suffering from diabetes and hypertension. JECFA therefore considered that more scientific data is required for further evaluation in 2007. The Codex Alimentarious Commission has not yet established any standard for steviol glycoside in foods.

Steviol glycoside is permitted to be used as sweeteners in food in countries like China, Japan and Korea. However, it is not permitted to be used in Australia, Canada, EU, Singapore and USA as a sweetener.

Advice to Consumer

1. Stevioside is not a permitted sweetener in Hong Kong;

2. However, there is no safety concern upon normal consumption by a healthy person;

3. Purchase food products from reputable sources.

Advice to Trade

1. Purchase food products from reputable sources;

2. Ensure that the products comply with local regulations, including food additives and labeling requirements.

Further information

Further information about stevioside in food can be obtained from the following webpages:

Centre for Food Safety
22 December 2006

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