Consumers should avoid bread and other baked goods that maintain their fresh smell despite sitting on shelves for a long time, as this could indicate the presence of plasticizer chemicals in the artificial flavoring, experts said over the weekend as the tainted food scare spread to a wider range of products.
Last week, Yu Shen Chemical Co (昱伸香料有限公司), which is under investigation for allegedly using the industrial-use chemical di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, or DEHP, in food additives, said pastry shops were among its customers.
Prosecutors have said that Yu Shen purchased 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 makers of jam and baked goods, as well as pastry shops.
This revelation led to the widespread investigation of seven of the country’s popular jam, bread and pastry businesses, which were alleged to have bought plasticizer-tainted food additives.
Lin Ja-liang (林杰樑), a clinical toxicology specialist at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in New Taipei City (新北市), said plasticizer chemicals could be used as fixative agents, which can help make baked goods smell fresh longer.
While it is normal for freshly baked bread and cookies to smell good, if the pastry continues to smell the same even after being left out for some time, it is possible that plasticizer chemicals were added to artificially maintain the smell, Lin said.
Even though the Department of Health 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 certification showing that their products are free of DEHP and other potentially harmful plasticizer chemicals, Lin said that contaminated consumer goods could also include products beyond these categories.
This could include consumer goods such as cookies and cosmetics, he said, which might use such chemicals to keep goods smelling fresh.
He also urged health authorities and prosecutors to find the source of di-n-butyl phthalate (DBP) as soon as possible, as DBP can be more hazardous than DEHP.
Last week, authorities discovered DBP in a health supplement under the brand name Zoeyen, which is distributed by CPC Biotechnology (中油生技). As this was the first discovery of DBP since the tainted food scare began, it is believed that a third company may have been involved in manufacturing tainted food additives.
In response, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said the department was doing everything in its power to track down the source of the tainted food additives as soon as possible.
As the department found that the tainted bread used jam containing plasticizer chemicals, the problem most likely originated with jam manufacturers rather than bakeries, he said.
The department said eating bread without jam, such as toast, was safe, as it is highly unlikely such goods would be made with clouding agents.
Turning to penalties for offenders, Lin said the fines stipulated under current regulations were not severe enough and should be revised.
Under current regulations, violators are subject to a maximum fine of NT$900,000 (US$31,331) and a prison sentence of up to three years.
Wu Chia-cheng (吳家誠), a -chemistry professor at National Taiwan Normal University and -secretary-general of the Consumers’ Foundation, said the government should require large food companies to establish their own laboratories to inspect their food.