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Food Safety Focus (113th Issue, December 2015) – Food Incident Highlight

Probable Human Carcinogen in Cherry Brandy

Last month, the Centre for Food Safety (CFS) received a recall notification from the Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) of the European Commission about some French alcoholic beverages containing high levels of ethyl carbamate (EC). The CFS was informed by the Hong Kong importer implicated by RASFF that the products (cherry brandy, Kirsch or Kirschwasser) did not enter the local market. For prudence sake, the CFS has issued trade and public alerts of the incident.

EC occurs naturally during the fermentation and storage of alcoholic beverages and fermented foods. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified EC as Group 2A "probably carcinogenic to humans". Among various alcoholic beverages, fruit brandy and distilled spirits usually contain higher amounts of EC while beers contain lower levels.

As alcoholic beverages are classified as Group I "carcinogenic to humans" by IARC, the CFS urges non-drinkers not to start drinking and current drinkers to consider cutting down on or even stopping drinking completely. Traders are advised to minimise heat and light exposure during transportation and storage of alcoholic beverages to reduce their EC levels.