The situation has been further confused after the FDA undertook a batch of new tests.
In a public post on its Facebook page, the Philippines FDA said that 39 samples of vinegar were tested to verify compliance with FDA quality standards.
“Five of these [brands were] found to contain synthetic acetic acid: Surebuy Cane Vinegar, Tentay Pinoy Style Vinegar, Tentay Premium Vinegar, Tentay Vinegar ‘Sukang Tunay Asim’ and Chef’s Flavor Vinegar,” said the FDA.
Testing was conducting based on the Permanganate Oxidation Number (PON) – differences in these determine the chemical process undertaken in the vinegar production, which would then identify whether synthetic acetic acid was used.
“Following the current Administrative Order prescribing the Standard of Identity and Quality of Vinegar, any artificial matter such as synthetic acetic acid or any cloudifying agent deems the vinegar adulterated hence, it must not be sold to the public,” it added.
“However, the FDA would like to reiterate that the presence of synthetic acetic acid is not a safety issue and does not pose any health risk to consumers as this only means that the vinegar is of substandard quality.”
The detection of synthetic acetic acid presence in vinegar means that the product did not undergo the process of fermentation.
Earlier in May this year, ‘fake vinegar’ first hit the spotlight after a Philippines Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) report revealed that ‘as many as eight out of ten vinegar products are not made from natural sources’.
Over 360 brands of commercial vinegar had been tested in the study, meaning that over 280 vinegar brands could be considered as ‘fake’ vinegar.
The release of the latest FDA results immediately drew online flak from the public, with many questioning why a new batch of testing was conducted as opposed to releasing brand names from the previous report, as well as what had happened to all the other companies from the PNRI report.
Some netizens postulated that the ‘big vinegar companies’ had ‘paid’ so that their names would not be disclosed, whereas others doubted the ‘no health risk’ claim.
Previously, Department of Health (DOH) and chemist/toxicologist Dr Flerida Carino described synthetic acetic acid-based vinegar to be ‘not totally unsafe’, which had already drawn questions from an irate public wanting to know: “Why the double negative?”
Agriculture Secretary Emmanuel Pinol also demanded via his Facebook page that the FDA and PNRI release the ‘fake vinegar’ brand names previously, saying that both agencies had ‘no basis’ to not do this.
“I believe that there is no simply no legal or moral basis for FDA to withhold the release of the brands which PNRI found using non-biogenic acetic acid, [as this] will not only be in compliance with the Consumer Protection laws but also the observance of that very basic provision in the Philippine Constitution which bestows upon every Filipino the Right to Know,” he wrote.
Testing to continue
That said, acting FDA Director General Rolando Enrique Domingo told PhilStar that vinegar testing was still ongoing, and small brands would also be subject to these checks.
“We are testing other brands of vinegar. If we see products that are also using synthetic acetic acid, then we will expand the list,” he said.
Domingo added that the five named brands will be required to remove their products from store shelves.