The Department of Health (DOH) said that during its latest round of inspections of 13 types of red yeast rice currently on the market, four were found to contain levels of citrinin that were two to three times the legal limit.
In recent years, foodstuffs made with red yeast rice have become popular because it is believed to reduce cholesterol and provide other health benefits. Red yeast rice products are made from rice and a red yeast called Monascus purpureus. Fermented rice is used as a food preservative, food coloring and an ingredient in rice wine.
However, if red yeast rice is not properly preserved or packaged, the amount of the toxin citrinin present can increase to levels harmful to the human body. Health officials therefore conducted inspections on 13 types of red yeast rice and found that four types contained citrinin between 10.2ppm (parts per million) to 14.5ppm, when the maximum legal limit allowed in such foods is only 5ppm.
Three of the red yeast rice products that contained too much citrinin were found in Taipei City, while one was found in Tainan County. Health officials have ordered that the products be immediately removed from shelves and they are investigating their origin.
Other foodstuffs made with red yeast were also inspected by the DOH, and all nine types of processed food passed inspections. Health officials said that 20 types of rice and wheat products, 19 types of coffee beans, 18 types of apple juice drinks, 10 types of infant formula and 28 types of solid baby food were all found to comply with food safety regulations.
The DOH said that because citrinin is produced naturally by fungi such as red yeast, it is not advisable to consume too much food made using it. When shopping for red yeast, consumers should choose well-known brands and products that are vacuum-packaged and refrigerated to avoid consuming too much toxin, it added.
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