Since concern arose that 4-Methylimidazole (4-MEI), which is present in some soft drinks, may be a carcinogen, the Department of Health (DOH) has decided to classify caramel coloring as a coloring agent and will be enforcing strict regulations against it. In the future all caramel coloring will have to pass tests, be registered, and meet production standards before being added to foods or drinks, and adding it to soy sauce, tea, laver, kelp or fresh produce will be prohibited.
However, some companies are opposed to the new standards, which have yet to be defined, because some soy sauces currently on the market still use caramel coloring to alter the color, and they are worried that consumers may not accept “white soy sauce” if the food coloring ingredient is eventually prohibited.
Lin Chieh-liang, head of the Clinical Toxicology Division at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Linkou, says that the amount of soy sauce people usually consume is relatively minimal since soy sauce is only used for dipping and not consumed as a beverage. On the other hand, he still says that the less people use something that is bad for them the better, and that avoiding it entirely would be best.
Photo: Chan Shih-hung, Liberty Times
In the past, caramel coloring was considered to be a natural food coloring and there were not any strict regulations against it. According to regulations against other coloring agents, once caramel coloring is considered to be a coloring agent, aside from not being allowed in fresh meats, fish, shellfish, beans and vegetables, it would also not be allowed in miso, soy sauce, kelp, laver or tea. Products on the market that would be most affected by the new regulations would be soy sauce and black tea beverages.
DOH officials are saying that the new standards have still not gone into effect, and that currently they are only offering precautionary warnings while they are still in the process of soliciting suggestions. The reason for not allowing food coloring to be added to fresh meats is so that they do not influence the consumer’s ability to determine freshness, but several companies have already expressed differing opinions when it comes to soy sauce. Typically the amount of coloring in soy sauce is minimal, so if it is only used for manufacturing, there are no other alternatives, and it does not affect consumer safety, continuing to allow caramel coloring may be considered, the DOH says.
Chen Lu-hung, deputy director general at the Food Industry Research and Development Institute, says that there are many natural alternatives that could be used to replace caramel coloring, including malt extract. Even Coca-Cola changed their recipe to resolve the issue, and if the DOH does indeed enforce restrictions against caramel coloring, the degree to which it would affect companies is minimal. Uni-President Enterprises Corp and Wei Chuan Foods Corp have both said they would merely have to alter their recipes and that it would not be a heavy blow.
Photo: George Tsorng, Liberty Times
(Liberty Times, Translated by Kyle Jeffcoat)
1. soft drink n. phr.
軟性飲料 (ruan3 xing4 yin3 liao4)
例: Drinking sugar-sweetened soft drinks may be associated with Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
2. laver n.
海苔 (hai3 tai2)
例: Laver bread is a traditional Welsh delicacy.
3. shellfish n.
貝類 (bei4 lei4)
例: Clams, mussels and oysters are all shellfish.
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