Recent controversy over the discovery of contaminated clouding agents in beverages was ratcheted up a notch after an anonymous manufacturer said that the use of illegal food additives in place of palm oil to extend the shelf life of clouding agents was a practice that began two decades ago.
Department of Health officials and police investigators on Monday last week confirmed that Yu Sheng Chemical Co had been adding di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) to clouding agents.
Lee Ching-chang (李俊璋), a professor of environmental health at National Cheng Kung University, said legal clouding agents are used to mix otherwise immiscible contents in beverages such as juices or sports drinks and act as emulsifiers to give products a more appealing appearance.
Clouding agents are compound substances and each manufacturer has a different recipe, Lee said, adding that although the actual ingredient lists of the agents are not made readily available to the public, the problem lies not in the agents themselves, but in the DEHP that was added to them.
Clouding agents tow which DEHP has been aded appeared as early as two decades ago, an anonymous manufacturer said, adding that the color of tainted clouding agents was very white and esthetically pleasing.
The most important part, the manufacturer said, was that clouding agents made with DEHP could be preserved for up to half a year longer than those made using palm oil.
Given the same amount of legal and illegal clouding agents, DEHP-laced clouding agents could be diluted and added into more drinks, the manufacturer said, adding that it was “quite shocking” that the health department knew nothing about this.
However, people in the industry were aware of the -“problematic” clouding agents, the manufacturer said, adding that businesses with a conscience or that operated on a large scale would not use it because DEHP was listed as a category four toxic substance by the government in 1999.
Ling Yong-chien (凌永健), a professor of chemistry at National Tsing Hua University, said that while he could not say how many products on the market used clouding agents, he recommended that the public be on the lookout for thick and pasty substances, such as juice concentrates, popsicles or shredded ice, almond tofu or other products and drinks that use added fragrances.
Wei Te Chemical Co, a manufacturer of clouding agents, said the reason most businesses tended to utilize illegal clouding agents was not because of price, but rather the long preservation periods and esthetically pleasing effect of using DEHP-laced products.
Wei Te chairman Cheng Ching-chu (鄭清竹) said many natural vegetable oils gave off a bad odor after a while, which meant that clouding agents made from palm oil had a shorter shelf life.
Compared with agents laced with DEHP, agents made from palm oil had a yellow tinger and were less stable, Cheng said, adding that for larger chemical companies, clouding agents usually did not account for even one-thousandth of total profits.
In the case of Wei Te, Cheng said, the company would only begin making the agents after businesses had placed their orders, trading time for quality.
In terms of fragrances whose quality was also called into question, Cheng said companies would not normally add DEHP to them, adding that academics should make sure they have enough proof before commenting in public, as they had only managed to hurt an already ailing industry.