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Food Safety Focus (63rd Issue, October 2011) – Food Incident Highlight

Use of Caustic Soda in Sea Cucumber

Recently, there were media reports on the abuse of caustic soda in sea cucumber on the Mainland. This raised public concerns as caustic soda is corrosive at high concentrations.

Caustic soda is the common name for sodium hydroxide, which functions as an acidity regulator or is used as a washing and peeling agent in food. The Joint FAO/WHO Expert Committee on Food Additives (JECFA) has evaluated the safety on the use of sodium hydroxide in food and considered its use in food according to Good Manufacturing Practice would not pose adverse effects to health.

The food trade should follow Good Manufacturing Practice on the use of sodium hydroxide in sea cucumber products. Traders should source sea cucumbers from reliable suppliers and ensure all foods they sell or import are fit for human consumption. The common practice of prolonged soaking of sea cucumber before cooking reduces the level of sodium hydroxide substantially. Sea cucumber should be washed in clean water thoroughly and the water used for soaking should be discarded before cooking.