The Consumers’ Foundation yesterday said that 14 types of alcohol paste commonly used in mini stoves in restaurants are composed of more than 50 percent methanol, which can cause health problems, including cancer, if inhaled.
Alcohol paste that typically comes in a squirt bottle or tube is widely used among restaurants for small hot pots or other dishes that must be kept over a flame. The alcohol paste is kept in a small container underneath the hot pot or dish and lighted as a mini stove.
While the paste may be convenient, the consumer rights watchdog said that the high amount of methanol in the fluid is harmful, especially when it evaporates into the air and is inhaled.
From November to December last year, the foundation conducted tests on 14 types of alcohol paste used as lighter fluid that is sold in supermarkets, specialty stores and hardware supply stores from various parts of the country and found that all of the products contained more than 50 percent methanol.
The foundation also found that of the 14 products inspected, only four of them clearly indicated on the product labeling that the product contains methanol, while the 10 other products falsely indicated the product was made of only -alcohol or other ingredients such as -industrial-use alcohol.
“When methanol enters the body, whether through consumption or inhalation, formaldehyde and formic acid are produced,” said Yeh Shin-cheng (葉欣誠), an inspector at the foundation. “Formaldehyde is a cancer-causing agent, while formic acid could lead to acidosis, or too much acidity in the blood, and could even lead to death.”
Yeh said that most alcohol pastes currently sold on the market use methanol because it is relatively cheap to produce, but in addition to the health risks posed by the chemical, it could also pose a fire hazard. If the alcohol paste is accidentally squirted onto a customer’s clothing or hair and catches fire, it would be extremely difficult to extinguish, he said.
Yeh said that alcohol paste made from ethanol releases fewer toxins and therefore would be a healthier choice, but because ethanol is more costly, most alcohol paste manufacturers choose methanol instead.
The foundation called on government agencies to establish a set of rules and standards on the use of methanol in alcohol paste and advised the public to avoid using alcohol paste as a stove when eating hot pot and other dishes. If alcohol paste must be used, the foundation advises keeping it in a place with plenty of ventilation.