Starch food sellers to need safety certificates

TAIPEI, Taiwan - The Department of Health (DOH) yesterday announced that all retailers, vendors and producers selling starch-processed foods will from June be required to post a safety certificate to prove that their products are free of maleic acid.

DOH spokesman Wang Che-chao said that in order to protect the public the department has activated a project which requires every local health department to remove from shelves any product containing maleic acid within three days.

"The DOH has been contacting lawmakers, hoping to add an amendment to the Act Governing Food Sanitation that includes more serious punishments for business owners who violate regulations," Wang said.

"If the amendment is passed the minimum fine for people who do not follow regulations concerning the production of food could be NT$10 million (S$421,572)  along with imprisonment."

Wang said that starting from June, the DOH will demand that vendors and retailers who sell starch-processed foods, including tapioca, Taiwanese meatballs, and yam and taro balls present a safety certification clearly stating that their products do not contain maleic acid.

"Vendors and retailers can receive the safety certification from starch ingredient providers, so the vendors and retailers have to be responsible in making sure the ingredients come from certified providers," said Wang.

According to Wang, the DOH will increase the reward for those who report any cases regarding food safety to the authorities, hoping to encourage more consumers to actively inform against illegal business operators.

It Shouldn't be Dangerous: Alleged Toxic Starch Inventor

Wang Tung-ching, a retired teacher who is allegedly responsible for inventing a food processing technique involving maleic acid, yesterday said that the maleic acid shouldn't be poisonous, as he has transformed it into hydrocarbons.

Manufacturers claimed that Wang taught them how to produce products containing maleic acid as part of ensuring starch-processed foods retain their texture. The manufacturers claimed that Wang received payment of between NT$500,000 (S$21,000) to NT$1 million for each instance in which he taught them the method.

Wang denied the accusation yesterday, saying that those who accused him should step out and clarify make their statements.

According to the Tainan City Government's Department of Health, the Act Governing Food Sanitation cannot be used against Wang as he is not a business operator.

The health department said, however, that if prosecutors confirm that Wang taught others how to produce toxic foods, he could face a maximum seven years in prison. Prosecutors said Wang has agreed to cooperate with their investigation.