Today we’ll be tuning in to the season finale of the Kueh Manufacturer vs Singapore Food Agency (SFA) saga.
At least we hope it’s the end.
Just last Tuesday, on 26 July, SFA suspended the operations of nine kueh manufacturers after sending their products in for laboratory testing back in April, and detecting high amounts of food additives in them.
Within a week of the suspension notice, five kueh manufacturers had their bans lifted upon disputing SFA’s claims successfully.
The nine manufacturers were previously banned from making, distributing or selling kueh products until further notice.
Jian Bo, registered under the business name Tiong Bahru Tian Bo Shui Kueh, was the first of the nine to engage an accredited third-party laboratory that same day to undergo separate tests for their products.
The following day, on 27 July, Jian Bo was able to clear their name using the negative results. They said in a Facebook post that all three of their products identified by the SFA as having higher-than-permissible levels of benzoic acid and sorbic acid, turned out to contain neither chemical.
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Four more kueh manufacturers, Toh Chuan Kee Foodstuff, Chit Guan Foodstuff, Tongli Food Manufacturing and Sin Hwa Coconuts Industrial, came forth in subsequent days with their own test results which showed that their current production of kuehs were free from the chemical compounds as well.
In accordance with this, SFA announced in a media statement on Tuesday, 2 August, that they have removed their business suspensions.
SFA Lifts Operation Ban on Remaining 4 Kueh Manufacturers
Probably realising that there seems to be a trend going on here, the remaining four kueh manufacturers on SFA’s banned list followed suit and sent in their products for separate laboratory tests.
Surprise surprise, the results came back negative for both benzoic and sorbic acid as well.
As with the other cases, SFA confirmed that the tests were conducted by accredited third-party laboratories, and adequate measures have since been put in place that comply with Singapore food regulations.
SFA had Apologised for Miscommunication
The SFA released a statement last week to explain the situation when Jian Bo managed to produce proof of its products being safe for consumption. It turns out that SFA had provided Jian Bo with wrong information about the amount the amount of sorbic acid allowed in their products initially.
SFA had told Jian Bo that the maximum amount of sorbic acid they could use in their kueh products was 1,000ppm, but they left out the fact that this was only limited to the kueh filling and not the skin.
Why not the skin as well, you ask? Because it’s what’s on the inside that counts, silly.
They cited this miscommunication as the reason for initially finding higher-than-permissible levels of sorbic acid in Jian Bo’s products, and subsequently apologised for the mishap.
Following Jian Bo’s ban lift, SFA stated that it will review internal procedures to ensure that food safety requirements are communicated fully and accurately to food manufacturers.
You might have noticed that this doesn’t solve the problem of the accuracy of their laboratory tests, though. SFA has yet to comment on this.
What’s the Deal with Benzoic & Sorbic Acid?
In food manufacturing, Sorbic acid is a compound predominantly in synthetic form, added to preserve foods so that they can be safe for consumption across longer periods.
Sorbic acid does not alter the taste or appearance of foods but it does help to prevent yeast and mold from growing on the food for longer periods. In the case of our beloved kueh, mold will start growing on it within just a few days but with this commonly used preservative added to it, it can remain mold-free for up to 30 days.
In general, sorbic acid is safe for regular use, as it is not linked to cancer or other major health problems. Some consumers may be allergic to sorbic acid, but reactions are typically mild and consist of light skin itching. In summary, you don’t have much to worry about when it comes to this additive being used in SFA-compliant products.
Benzoic acid is another food preservative, and although it would take a substantial amount of benzoic acid to be lethal to humans, high exposure levels were found to be poisonous. For some, there have been reports of increased symptoms of asthma, and rash irritations on the skin. Children also appear to be at a higher risk of the symptoms caused by benzoic acid as well.
Though again, you shouldn’t be too quick to worry, as SFA has strict regulations in place over the permitted levels of such preservatives.
So strict, in fact, that they have managed to detect “invisible” food additive particles in many kuehs?
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