Taiwan launches nationwide food checks

TAIPEI - Health authorities conducted a total of 8,488 examinations yesterday in a nationwide inspection of venues selling starch-related food products.

The inspectors determined that 7,720 of the inspected venues - or 91 per cent of the total - were selling food that contained safe starch and had properly posted safety certifications.

As part of the Cabinet's "0527 Food Safety Inspection Project", initiated largely as a response to the recent tainted starch scandal, health bureaus nationwide launched a string of food safety checks, demanding vendors such as grocery stores, retail shops and night market stands acquire and display safety certifications.

Taipei's Department of Health (DOH) yesterday launched safety inspections on numerous food sellers, reporting five violators who did not provide the required safety certifications.

Taipei conducted inspections into a total of 123 food sellers, finding five that were not providing safety certifications or information on the sources of their ingredients. The DOH has demanded that these five sellers provide certifications and the required information within two days or be fined between NT$30,000 (S$1,270) and NT$150,000 each.

The government also reminded vendors that if they are found to be selling products containing an excessive amount of potentially harmful maleic acid, they could face fines of up to NT$6 million.

New Taipei's Environmental Protection Department (EPD) yesterday destroyed 22.3 metric tons of tainted starch products at the Shulin Incineration Plant. Earlier this week the Cabinet ordered that all collected tainted products be destroyed within a week.

Inspections launched in Southern Taiwan

Taichung Health Bureau Director Huang Mei-na led a team of inspection officials to the popular Fengjia Night Market for food checkups early yesterday morning.

The team targeted eight items - flat rice noodles, tempura, crystal meatballs, bean curd, taro balls, tapioca balls, sweet potato balls and yellow jelly - all popular dishes found throughout the nation's night markets.

According to local reports, some vendors complained to the officials during the inspection, saying that their ingredients were safe and suppliers reputable, but that their businesses have already received a blow from the food scare.

The inspecting officials responded by encouraging the vendors to continue their good practices, and thanked them for cooperating with the government.

In total, Taichung yesterday inspected 369 food vendors. Four sellers were found to not meet the government's standards and were ordered to immediately halt sales of their products.

Meanwhile, health department officials from Kaohsiung carried out checks in night markets and wholesale stores almost immediately after midnight. Many food vendors told officials that they thought it was still May 31, when asked why they had not put up their food safety certificates.

Officials order investigation

Control Yuan member Cheng Jen-hung stated that on Monday he will form an investigative group to look into Taiwan's food safety inspection mechanisms.

Amid the scandal over tainted starch products, agar powder and tapioca powder, Chen said that the string of food quality incidents has challenged the trust of Taiwanese consumers.

A.G.V. Products and Uni-President were on Thursday forced to pull products that were found to contain tainted agar powder and tapioca powder ingredients.

Citing the list of renowned food manufactures - I-Mei, Elate, and Tait - that were recently found to have tainted food products, Chen said: "Something is wrong with our food inspection mechanisms."

He added that the Department of Health under the Cabinet has missed a few steps in its role as a gatekeeper of food quality, such as conducting routine food safety inspections on manufacturers and their ingredients.

Chen also expressed disagreement with food manufacturers that claimed to be victims of the scandal, saying the manufacturers were irresponsible in failing to perform thorough checkups.

"They did not perform thorough checkups on the upstream ingredient providers, nor did they test the ingredients themselves. This counts as irresponsible," he said.

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