Taiwan Retailers Forced to Certify Beverages

TAIPEI, Taiwan

Taiwan authorities confiscated sports beverages, jellies, juices, energy and bottled and powdered tea drinks in an attempt to prevent consumption of potentially cancer-causing DEHP contaminated products shipped worldwide.

Trace amounts of phthalate often leach from plastic containers but tests showed up to 600 parts per million in beverages, indicating DEHP had been used as an ingredient. On Tuesday Taiwan retailers were barred from selling five categories of food and beverages — sports drinks, juices, tea drinks, fruit jams or syrups, and dietary tablets or powders — unless they were certified as being free of the six plasticizers cited by the Department of Health.

China Post reported chaos in retail outlets as 200 inspectors on Tuesday pulled 300 branded products and more than 3,500 items without certificates from shelves. These items can be later sold when certificates are in place.

Fines were levied at Carrefour and Hi-Life stores and many others received warning tickets and face fines of $52,000 if the products were not removed by the end of the day.

Manufacturers must obtain laboratory test certificates showing that their products are not contaminated by any of the six chemicals or provide evidence the emulsifiers used in formulating their products were manufactured by trusted formulators.

DEHP or Di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate is a plasticizer strictly banned from foods. It appears to have been added to legal emulsifiers such as gum Arabic as a clouding agent.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration along with its counterparts in Canada and the United Kingdom are monitoring imports and retailers are being advised to remove a broad range of 500 products from their shelves until tested or certified safe.

“At this point there has been no recall on tea,” says Tea Association of Canada President Louise Roberge. There is greater concern for liquid ready-to-drink teas and bubble-type tea than traditional tea bags and loose-leaf teas, she says. Retailers should expect heightened public attention for the next three to five weeks. Click here for additional information from the Canadian government's food inspection office.

During the weekend Taiwan retailers removed 500,000 beverage bottles and 28,539 kilos of fruit juices, fruit jam, powder and syrup, and yogurt powder as a precaution. Similar recalls are occurring in the Philippines, mainland China and Singapore.

Concerns involve a number of product categories including cosmetics, dietary supplements and baby food brands using food additives manufactured in Taipei City by Yu Shen Chemical Co. or Pin Han Perfumery Co. Owners of these companies have been detained and their assets seized by Taiwan’s Ministry of Justice.

A complete list of products is unknown but the Taipei Times reported 167 manufacturers purchased products from Yu Shen and that products from 47 local manufacturers tested positive and were recalled. Food manufacturers included Poss-mei Corp. which supplies bubble tea ingredients. The firm said emulsifiers are usually not added when making tapioca balls, a main ingredient of bubble milk tea.

A preliminary investigation reported in the China Times indicates Yu Shen began using DEHP several years ago after it discontinued using the even more toxic agent DOP.

DEHP can disrupt the endocrine system and cause hormone imbalance and has been linked to cancers, but dissipates after a few days. DOP accumulates in the body and cannot be used in foods. Formulators at the two firms pointed fingers at a “bad master” who they say taught them the formula for the clouding agent. DEHP can be substituted for the more expensive palm oil and is said to deliver richer colors.

The DEHP escaped detection despite routine testing by private manufacturers and public safeguards at Taiwan’s Department of Health. Legislators were quick to condemn the Environmental Protection Administration for not classifying the “Class 4” substance as a much more tightly-regulated “Class 2” ingredient. A reclassification is underway.

Over the weekend Taipei City inspectors also found products with illegally added di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) which is also used as a clouding agent in toy manufacture. It is illegal in foods.

Vice Premier and Cabinet-level Consumer Protection Commissioner Sean Chen assured the people of Taiwan putative action will be swift. He asked the Consumers’ Foundation to handle complaints and assist individuals in joining class-action lawsuits.

Taiwan has informed the World Health Organization which will assist in tracking food shipments suspected of containing DEHP. Retailers can visit the International Food Safety Authorities Network (INFOSAN) for additional information.

Sources: China Post, Taipei Times, Canadian Food Inspection Agency

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Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.