Import of tapioca pearls to Malaysia put on hold

PETALING JAYA - Malaysia has suspended the import of 11 starch-based products from Taiwan after Singapore authorities found maleic acid in some tapioca pearls or balls used in the popular "bubble tea" drink.

Home Ministry food safety and quality senior director Noraini Datuk Mohd Othman said the suspension was a precautionary measure after they received early media reports on the issue.

Singapore's Agri-Food and Vete­rinary Authority said on Sunday the products have been withdrawn after the additive - which is not been approved in the republic - were found in them.

The food safety regulator an­­nounced this shortly after tapioca balls from Sunright Foods Corpo­ration were recalled when Taiwan's Food and Drug Administration (FDA) discovered maleic acid in the company's products.

The use of maleic acid as a food additive is also prohibited in Malaysia under the Food Regulations 1985 as consuming high levels of it over a long term period can cause kidney damage.

"For those who have bought the product, it is advisable that you do not consume them but return the product to the seller or throw it away," Noraini advised in a press statement here yesterday.

"However, those who have consumed it, before this, do not worry. Occasional intake of maleic acid at a low dosage is not dangerous," she said.

Noraini said the ministry, however, had not found any tapioca balls or tapioca pearls from Sunright Foods imported into Malaysia.

In the meantime, she said, the ministry has imposed a hold, test and release test on similar food products from other Taiwanese companies unless the importer can produce a certificate approved by the Taiwan FDA that its products are free of maleic acid.

She said besides tapioca pearls produced by several companies, some other food products had also been found to contain maleic acid.

"We are waiting for a confirmation from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office," she said, adding the ministry would continue to monitor imported products from Taiwan.

Products by Sunright Foods in the list of suspended imported items are tapioca balls and indica rice powder.

Another tapioca ball importer in the list of 11 is Grand Chainly Enterprises Co Ltd.

Tapioca pearls suspended from being imported here are from Possmei International Co. Ltd, Shang Wang, Ting Long, An Li Si and Taiwan Tapioca Foods Company Ltd.

Tapioca starch importer Hong Kai Foods Co and noodles importers Sin Chi Zhi Miang Chang are also on the suspension list.

Noraini urged importers, distributors and sellers of these products from Taiwan to recall the products immediately and report to the ministry's Food Safety and Quality Division or the state and district health offices for further investigations.

"The industries which use the products are advised to stop using them for the time being," she said.