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Food Safety Focus (79th Issue, February 2013) – Food Incident Highlight

Plasticiser in Distilled Spirits

Reported by Ms. Melissa LIU, Scientific Officer,
Risk Assessment Section,
Centre for Food Safety

In December 2012, the Food and Environmental Hygiene Department received a food complaint that a bottle of Chinese distilled spirits labelled as Moutai contained plasticiser. Test result on the submitted sample in an unsealed bottle showed that it contained a plasticiser, di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), at 2.8 mg/kg which exceeded the action level set for food. Risk assessment showed that the dietary exposure to DEHP by the average and high consumers of the distilled spirits at the detected level would not exceed the safety reference value established by the World Health Organization.

DEHP is widely used in polyvinyl chloride (PVC) products to improve flexibility and durability of the plastic material. It may be present in food due to migration from PVC food contact materials or as an environmental contaminant. DEHP has low acute toxicity.

Currently, there is no international standard for maximum limits of plasticisers in distilled spirits. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) has set an action level of 1.5 mg/kg for DEHP in food during the food incident involving the adulteration of plasticisers in five categories of Taiwanese food in 2011. There is currently no evidence that DEHP has been added deliberately to distilled spirits. As distilled spirits are not considered as a normal part of the diet of the general population and some plasticisers (including DEHP) are highly soluble in alcohol, the action level for food might not be appropriate for distilled spirits. Taking into account the risk assessment result and relevant European data, the CFS has set a separate action level of 5 mg/kg for DEHP in distilled spirits.

Alcohol is a cancer-causing agent. Alcohol consumption has both immediate and long-term effects on health. It also increases the risk of intoxication, even death. Non-drinkers should not start drinking. For those who choose to drink alcoholic beverages, they should limit the amount of alcohol consumed to minimise alcohol-related harm.