Fri, Feb 04, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Excessive chemical levels found in New Year pumpkin seeds and sponge cakes

DISTURBING RESULTSSurveys conducted by the Consumer's Foundation found high levels of sulfite and other nasty chemicals in many holiday goodies

By Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTER

The Consumer's Foundation yesterday cautioned the public to pick and choose when buying pumpkin seeds and sponge cake for the Lunar New Year holiday. A survey conducted by the foundation discovered that 70 percent of pumpkin seeds and 20 percent of sponge cake brands fell short of health standards.

PHOTO: WANG MIN-WEI, TAIPEI TIMES

Sales of traditional snacks bought in the run-up to the Lunar New Year holidays will reach a climax this weekend, but excessive amounts of chemicals are found in some of the popular goods, the Consumer's Foundation (消基會) said yesterday.

Citing surveys it conducted last month, the foundation said an astonishing 71.4 percent of salted pumpkin seeds contain undue residues of sulfite, a type of bleaching agent commonly used in food processing, said the foundation's chairman Jason Lee (李鳳翱) at a press conference.

Taking in too much of such chemical substances might lead to difficulties in breathing, diarrhea and vomiting, he added.

Among the 21 samples of pumpkin seeds obtained from Taipei's hypermarkets, traditional markets and the famed Dihua Street, 15 cases fell under the mark, including the well-known brand Weng Tsai Chi (翁財記), the survey showed.

Other must-have goods during the holidays were also found containing illegal preservatives. Twenty percent of fa gao, or steamed sponge cakes, contained benzoic acid or dehydroacetic acid, which might cause liver damage and spasms, said Lee Cherh-yu (李哲瑜), the foundation's deputy director.

Lee, also an associate professor of restaurant management at Northern Taiwan Institute of Science and Technology, suggested that consumers should buy packaged snacks with clear labeling, rather than buying in bulk.

"Packaging can protect food from pollution, rain, dust and flies when vendors display them by the roadside, thereby reducing manufacturers' need to use preservatives," she explained.

Despite the Consumers' Foundation's alarming findings, relevant regulations do not go far enough, according to foundation chairman Jason Lee.

Incomplete labeling and illegal use of chemical substances only incur fines of between NT$30,000 and NT$150,000, according to Article 17 and Article 12 of the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), he said.

"We urge authorities concerned to thoroughly examine the products and order vendors to pull unqualified snacks off the shelves immediately, as stipulated in Article 10 of the Consumer Protection Law (消保法)," Lee said.

Choosing packaged snacks that meet Good Manufacturing Practice standards would be the best way to avoid these problems, he added.

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