With several biotech companies selling products containing banned chemicals, the tainted food scare continued to expand around the nation as the five food categories that require government safety checks no longer cover all potentially contaminated goods.
In a bid to put consumers’ minds at ease, the Department of Health (DOH) has required manufacturers of five categories of foods and beverages — sports drinks, juices, tea drinks, fruit jams or syrups, and tablets and powders — to provide certificates showing their products are free of di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, and other banned chemicals. The measure may still not go far enough, however, to remove tainted food products from stores.
Lai Chun-chieh (賴俊傑), the owner of Yu Shen Chemical Co (昱伸香料有限公司), one of the main companies that used DEHP in its clouding agents, said that pastry shops were also among the company’s customers.
Lai, who is now being detained in Changhua, told prosecutors on Friday that seven popular jam, bread and pastry businesses in Taiwan were also major buyers of his plasticizer-tainted food additives. Lai was quoted by prosecutors as saying that he bought about 5 tonnes of DEHP every month to make flavor and food coloring agents and sold the products not just to chemical companies, but also domestic jam, baked goods and pastry shops.
Prosecutors found that in addition to clouding agents, Yu Shen Chemical also produced fruit jams in six different flavors — lemon, strawberry, papaya, orange, mango and pineapple — for three downstream companies. One of the buyers was suspected of having made bread with the problematic jam.
Health department official Tsai Shu-chen (蔡淑貞) said that the fruit jams, rather than breads or cakes, were the source of the plasticizers.
According to the latest DOH statistics, a total of 345 businesses have been put on the DOH’s monitoring list. The number of products subject to safety checks has increased to 855 items, including ginger tea and ginseng powder.
The New Taipei City Government announced yesterday that it had decided to withdraw Yu Shen’s business license and factory registration after being informed by the Changhua District Prosecutors’ office of Lai’s latest confession. The city government will also fine Yu Shen NT$150,000 for selling of chemical-tainted food products.
As the food contamination storm continued, lawmakers across party lines urged the government yesterday to activate the country’s national security mechanism.
That would require the president and premier to take the lead in handling the crisis that has sparked nationwide panic and harmed Taiwan’s business reputation in international markets.
The Ministry of Education, meanwhile, said yesterday that it has asked universities nationwide to remove from campus stores all food and beverages known to be tainted with plasticizers and anything else that has not received safety certification.
The ministry has also asked three medical universities and nine universities with public health, food or medical science departments to assist other schools in accomplishing the task before June 17, ministry officials said.
Representatives will be sent to universities before June 17 to check their progress, officials said.
Wu Trong-neng (吳聰能), vice president of China Medical University, one of the three medical universities responsible for the checks, said his school has been conducting free plasticizer tests for colleges and high schools in central Taiwan since late last month and would continue offering them until Friday.