Unapproved additive found in 11 food products

ELEVEN starch-based products from Taiwan, most of which are used in bubble tea beverages, have been withdrawn from sale after they were found to contain an additive which has not been approved in Singapore.

Maleic acid was discovered in the products; consuming high levels of it can cause kidney damage.

In a statement yesterday, the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority of Singapore (AVA) said that its findings stemmed from surveillance of Taiwanese food products, following the recall of the Sunright brand of tapioca balls earlier this month.

The AVA said it has tested 66 products so far and that most of the 11 affected products are tapioca starch balls - commonly known as "pearls" - used in the preparation of bubble tea.

Importers of these products have been informed and withdrawals have been completed.

The AVA advised consumers who have bought these products to either return them to the retailer or discard them, adding that it is "monitoring the situation closely" and continuing its surveillance of Taiwanese food products.

The AVA said it was unable to disclose the names of importers and manufacturers involved in the 11 recalled products, nor could it identify the bubble tea shops which had used them.

Bubble tea shops that were contacted by The Straits Times yesterday denied using any of these products.

The general manager of franchise Sharetea, Ms April Ang, said her company has never used any of the affected goods and works with a "big-time supplier" which "produces pearls to our standards".

She declined to name the supplier but said that Sharetea has never had any food issues and that the recalled goods "look like off-the-shelf products used by small players".

None of the recalled products was used by popular bubble tea chain Gong Cha either, said its business director, Mr Goh Chee Cheng.

He noted that all of its pearls are made with "house brand" starch balls imported directly from the parent company.

He added that Gong Cha constantly sends its products for testing and uses only those which comply with the required safety standards.

Mr Goh said that he is not too concerned about the latest recall and does not think it is a "growing problem, but more of a one-off incident".