Sat, Apr 13, 2002 - Page 17 News List

Germany announces ban of jelly used by local candy makers


Germany yesterday announced a ban on a jelling agent, konjac, which has been used in billions of sweets for children.

Konjac, also known as konnyaku, yam flour or glucomannan, is the key material in a childhood sensation known as Mini Fruit Jellys or Mini Fruit Cups that had to be pulled from shelves all over the EU and the US in January.

Served in tiny plastic cups that imitate grown-ups' ready-to-eat meals, the Taiwanese-made sweet is sucked into the mouth to be chewed slowly. However small children were at risk of choking if they swallowed the gel too early.

German Health Minister Renate Kuenast said she had decided to extend the ban from the product to all use of konjac as an ingredient. Sources said EU officials had agreed to a request from Berlin for konjac to be banned soon throughout western Europe.

The German ban is to take effect on Wednesday.

The US Food and Drug Administration said earlier this year there had been reports of four US children's deaths from choking associated with this type of jelly candy. Food safety experts spoke of up to eight deaths in Japan.

It is estimated that one Taiwanese company sold more than 3 billion pieces of the gel snacks.

In August of last year the popular jelly candy imported from Taiwan was pulled from US shelves of hundreds of supermarkets after it was blamed for the choking deaths of two children.

At that time two US grocery store chains -- Safeway and Albertson's -- announced that Jelly Yum brand candies and Fruit Poppers and Gelly Drop candies will be removed from its 2,500 stores nationwide, and bulk-goods store Costco ordered the candies off the shelves of more than 250 stores around the world, including 10 in Asia.

The candy is linked to the deaths of a 3-year-old an a 12-year-old last year in the US. In both cases, rescue workers said they couldn't dislodge the sticky gel from the children's throats.

The gel candies are individually packed in small, soft plastic cups and are sold in bulk in plastic jars.

The brightly colored candies have become popular over the last two years among American children after the treats met with success in Asia.

Health officials have warned the sweet gel does not readily dissolve in the mouth. Some jars carry a label warning that the candies are not safe for children under age 6, while others have said they are not safe for children under age 3.

At least a dozen deaths have been tied to the candy around the world. Most have been in Asia, where the candy originated in 1995. In Japan, the candy has gotten the nickname "deadly mouthful."

The Taichung County-based Sheng Hsiang Jen Foods Co (華元盛香珍集團), the manufacturer of the gel candies blamed for two deaths in the San Francisco Bay Area, has long-maintained the candy is safe.

"Whether it was a mini-fruity gel, a piece of meat, a hot dog, or any hard candy, the result could have been the same," a company statement on the matter said last year.

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