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Food Safety Focus (83rd Issue, June 2013) – Food Incident Highlight

Maleic Acid in Starch-containing Food Products

Last month, the Taiwan authority detected maleic acid in a variety of food products including fish paste products, noodles, taro- and tapioca-balls. The Centre for Food Safety (CFS) issued trade alerts and food incident posts to inform the trade and the public about the incident and took food samples from the Hong Kong market for testing.

The levels of maleic acid detected far exceeded the quantities expected to be present as an impurity in food additives or from migration from food contact material that might have used maleic acid as an additive. Upon investigation, the Taiwan authority has linked the food incident to the abusive use of maleic anhydride during the production of modified starches, some of which were in turn used to manufacture further starch-containing food products. According to the risk assessment conducted by the CFS based on the detected levels, occasional consumption of maleic acid tainted starch-containing foods is not likely to pose any significant health risk. No positive samples have been detected in the Hong Kong market from the testing conducted by the CFS so far.

Maleic acid and maleic anhydride should not be used as food additives. Food manufacturers should only use those food additives that are approved for use in food. Members of the public are reminded to obtain food from reliable sources.