In yet another food industry ban related to toxic chemicals from China, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday that an imported batch of powdered baking ammonia was found to contain between 70 parts per million (ppm) and 300ppm of melamine.
The department subsequently banned imports of baking ammonia from China, and has passed this information on to the WHO’s International Food Safety Authorities Network.
The tainted ammonium bicarbonate was produced by two companies in China, Huaer Chemical Co (化二化工有限公司) and Yaolong (耀隆化工集團), the DOH said.
The only company in Taiwan to have imported tainted materials from these companies is Sesoda Corporation (東碱股份有限公司), Deputy DOH Minister Cheng Shou-hsia (鄭守夏) said at a press conference yesterday.
While the DOH said that the melamine content was 70ppm to 300ppm, the Taipei City Government Department of Health issued a press release saying the concentration was between 1,410ppm and 2,470 ppm.
The DOH did not give an explanation for the discrepancy.
Ammonium bicarbonate, also known as baking ammonia, is listed as a legal food additive in the Standard Regulating Scope and Application of Food Additives (食品添加物使用範圍及限量標準), Cheng said.
“Although it is allowed as an additive in food products, adding harmful substances to it is prohibited,” he said.
Ammonium bicarbonate is used in the food industry as a leavening agent. It is commonly used in biscuits, cookies, cream puffs and Chinese fried bread sticks (油條).
The DOH said it had notified local health bureaus to track down tainted baking ammonia nationwide.
Sesoda said in a press release issued yesterday that, of the 400 tonnes of ammonium bicarbonate it had imported from China, 20 tonnes remained in its warehouses countrywide, leaving 380 tonnes in circulation.
However, the company said it did not know whether all 380 tonnes are contaminated.
Sesoda is a listed company headquartered in Taipei and has warehouses countrywide. According to the company’s Web site, it is the largest manufacturer of sulphate of potash in Taiwan.
The DOH yesterday called on all businesses in Taiwan to stop using Chinese-made powdered baking ammonia in food products and to use other raising agents such as baking soda, yeast or yeast powder instead.
“[Powdered baking ammonia] is used in a wide variety of food products, but in very small amounts,” Wu Ming-chang (吳明昌), a professor of food science at the National Pingtung University of Science and Technology, told the Taipei Times in a telephone interview.
Wu said a leavening agent is added to dough or batter before heating or baking.
While the chemical reactions involved in the baking process may emit some chemicals in the form of gas, melamine will remain in the finished product, Wu said.
Melamine has been added to milk powder by some companies in China to give their products a false high protein content reading.
Wu said the addition of melamine to powdered baking ammonia also caused testing instruments to falsely identify a high amount of nitrogen, which is used as an indicator of the purity of the material.
A source speaking on condition of anonymity said that health authorities had already detected melamine in ammonium bicarbonate a week ago, but waited until yesterday to make the announcement.
The source said that talk of melamine-contaminated baking ingredients had been circulating in the food industry for the past week.
In response, a DOH official who declined to be identified said that since the incident involving King Car Industrial Co (金車) last month, health authorities have been randomly checking certain materials for traces of melamine.
When they found that ammonium bicarbonate sold by local suppliers contained melamine, they traced the contamination back to Sesoda, the official said.
On Sept. 21, King Car recalled 120,000 cases of three-in-one instant coffee and instant soup products after it discovered the products contained a melamine-spiked non-dairy creamer produced by Zhongshi Duqing (Shandong) Biotech Co, located in Shijiazhuang in Hebei Province.
The DOH called an inter-agency meeting yesterday afternoon with the Consumer Protection Commission, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, the Council of Agriculture, the Straits Exchange Foundation and other agencies to discuss measures to assist companies find substitutes for ammonium bicarbonate or importing ammonium bicarbonate from countries other than China.
Melamine-contaminated milk and baby formula has killed at least four babies and sickened thousands of children in China.
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