The Department of Health yesterday announced that it had initiated a special food safety project following a number of scares, where industrial starch products were found in oden, tapioca pearls, taro balls, flat noodles and more recently, Taiwanese meatballs and traditional tofu pudding.
Maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch has been discovered to have tainted various food products and the storm does not seem to be waning.
As of yesterday, 186 tonnes of substandard products had been recalled or confiscated from one wholesaler, three distributors, eight manufacturers and 16 vendors of the industrial starch, the health department said, adding that the products would be destroyed within a week.
Department of Health Minister Chiu Wen-ta (邱文達) said that the “0527 Food Safety Project” would ensure that over the next three days health authorities across the nation continue to carry out sweeping inspections of every starch manufacturer and distributor in their districts.
“Also, starting today, every food starch provider will have to provide food safety certifications for the vendors of starch-containing products, such as flat noodles, Taiwanese meatballs, oden, tapioca pearls, tofu pudding, Taiwanese rice jelly (粉粿), taro balls and yam balls. Vendors of these products will have to publicly display the certifications for consumers’ examination,” Chiu said.
In addition, Chiu said that health authorities across the nation would conduct sweeping inspections from Saturday and those who fail to provide appropriate documentation could be fined heavily under the amended Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法), 14 articles of which have been amended since the plasticizer scandal.
Rewards will be offered to individuals who provide information on food manufacturers and vendors who are breaking the law, Food and Drug Administration Director-General Kang Jaw-jou (康照洲) said.
“It would be difficult for the authority to inspect food products one by one as there are more than 500,000 food items out there,” Kang added.
“It is the consensus of both the ruling and the opposition parties that the penalty for food safety breaches has to be raised,” Kang said. “Fines used to range between NT$30,000 [US$1,000] and NT$150,000, but could now be raised to between NT$3 million and NT$4 million. And since offenders can be cumulatively fined, it is possible that penalties may add up to tens of millions.”
“Legislators are also mulling the possibility of criminal sentences once a limit is crossed,” Kang said.
When asked how long manufacturers had been using maleic anhydride-modified industrial starch as food starch, Kang did not have a clear answer, saying simply that prosecutors were still looking into the matter.
Meanwhile, the health department reported that Singapore’s health authority had detected 11 substandard starch products, including tapioca starch, tapioca pearls, indica rice powder and noodles, during an inspection of 66 Taiwanese products.