In May, Singapore’s food inspection team withdrew from sale a number of starch-based products from Taiwan after they found the imports contained quantities of meleic acid, an unapproved chemical.
The products consisted mostly of tapioca starch balls, along with rice noodles and hotpot ingredients, and their withdrawal from coffee shops and cafes provoked a mild scare among Singaporean consumers of the highly popular bubble tea.
However, Taiwanese authorities have said results from their own tests on the starch products differed significantly from those released by their Singapore counterparts. The Far East country’s Food and Drug Administration has since been trying to contact the Singaporean laboratory responsible for the tests, Taiwan's representative in Singapore and the Bureau of Foreign Trade.
“We have not received any response so far,” said Tsai Shu-chen, a division chief at the FDA, adding that the maleic acid detected in some of the Taiwanese food products might have occurred naturally during the manufacturing process.
As a result, the FDA is determined to learn which methods had been employed by the Singaporeans to test the products.
The substance in question had been traced to a modified starch containing maleic anhydride, a chemical used in the production of food packing materials.
The Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore had ordered the recalls of 18 starch-based food products from Taiwan after they were detected to contain trace amounts of maleic acid.
Among the items were four noodle products made by Sun Chi Foods Industrial Co. The company, however, said it has not used any modified starches in its noodle products, and tests conducted the FDA on those products did not detect any maleic acid.
Meanwhile, Malaysia’s health ministry has ordered Round Balls Each-A-Cup, another food product from Taiwan, to be taken off the shelves after it also tested positive for maleic acid.
The ministry’s senior director of food safety and quality, Noraini Mohd Othman said: "Those who are using and have bought the product are advised to get rid of it."