Wed, Feb 04, 2009 - Page 2 News List

DOH plans to test for deadly bacteria during inspections

By Shelley Huang  /  STAFF REPORTER

Following another food safety scare after the possible contamination of locally produced infant formula, the Department of Health (DOH) said yesterday it plans to include Enterobacter Sakazakii tests in its mandatory food safety inspection procedures, possibly by as early as April.

Chinese media recently reported that infant formula produced by Taiwan’s Wei Chuan Corp (味全食品) was destroyed after testing positive for E. Sakazakii during inspections by Chinese customs officials.

Beside Wei Chuan, 13 other Taiwanese companies were reported to have produced foods that have not passed safety tests performed by Chinese officials between last August and November.

The names of the companies have been posted on the official Web site of China’s General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.

Although Wei Chuan’s possibly contaminated product was not being marketed in Taiwan, the food scare prompted Taiwan’s health officials to launch a probe into whether the products are indeed contaminated and determine at which points in the production or distribution process the problems, if any, occurred.

“If the [possibly contaminated] products are being sold in Taiwan, first, we have to confirm whether [the reports] are true, so we can take samples for testing,” said Lin Syue-rong (林雪榮), director of the Bureau of Food Safety.

“We need to get more details on what the situation is in China — whether something is wrong with the products, or some problem occurred during the shipping process,” she said. “We can’t make an assessment based solely on information from China.”

Lin said the DOH would send officials to inspect all factories where a problem could exist and, if necessary, issue fines and remove products from shelves.

In view of recent events, the health department said it was planning to add tests for E. Sakazakii to its mandatory food safety inspection procedure.

E. Sakazakii is a rod-shaped bacteria that can cause meningitis in newborns, as well as necrotizing enterocolitis, or tissue death in the digestive system.

Infections have been linked to infant formula, with a mortality rate of 50 percent.

The Codex Alimentarius Commission, a food safety committee created by the WHO, announced last year it would include in its Codex code criteria on limiting E. Sakazakii in powdered infant formula.

Although E. Sakazakii is very rare, the health department will meet with academics and experts to discuss including E. Sakazakii tests to ensure food safety, Lin said.

Once the plan is approved, the mandatory test could be in effect as early as April, she said.

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