Carcinogenic compounds found in Bee Cheng Hiang bak kwa, but no health risk if consumed in moderation: SFA

High levels of potentially cancer-causing compounds were found in Bee Cheng Hiang’s sliced beef bak kwa by a Hong Kong consumer watchdog. PHOTO: BEE CHENG HIANG

SINGAPORE – A Hong Kong consumer watchdog found high levels of potentially cancer-causing compounds in homegrown brand Bee Cheng Hiang’s sliced beef bak kwa, but the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said there is no health risk when the product is consumed in moderation.

“The SFA has conducted an assessment and found that the levels reported pose no food safety concerns, as bak kwa is usually consumed occasionally and not in large quantities on a regular basis,” an SFA spokesman told The Straits Times on Thursday.

Hong Kong Consumer Council on Wednesday released its findings after testing 30 samples of meat jerky, meat floss and meat crisps from various brands for food safety between October and November last year.

The independent statutory body said it found the potentially carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAHs) in 13 samples, with the highest levels detected in Bee Cheng Hiang’s sliced beef bak kwa.

PAHs are formed when meat is cooked on high heat through grilling and pan-frying over an open flame, according to the SFA. When fat and juices from meat drip on the heated surface or open fire it is grilled on, flame and smoke are produced.

PAHs are found in the smoke, which then settle on the meat surface.

At 18.2 micrograms per kilogram, the level of PAHs in the Bee Cheng Hiang product exceeds the European Union (EU) limit of 12 micrograms per kilogram by over 50 per cent, according to the Hong Kong Consumer Council.

A spokesman for Bee Cheng Hiang told The Straits Times that the company was aware of the report.

“Our Hong Kong team is handling the matter, and we can confirm that our products in Hong Kong are in compliance with the Hong Kong Centre for Food Safety (CFS).

“Within the Consumer Council’s report, CFS has given its assessment and advised that the detected PAHs has little impact on public health,” the spokesman added.

Founded in 1933, Bee Cheng Hiang has 43 outlets in Singapore and its products are sold in Hong Kong and 10 other territories in Asia Pacific.

“As far as Singapore is concerned, we are in compliance with SFA’s food safety requirements, and our bak kwa in Singapore is safe for consumption,” the spokesman added.

An SFA spokesman also told The Straits Times that PAHs in grilled and processed meats “will not pose a health risk” when consumed in moderation.

“For consumers with a balanced and varied diet, this is no cause for concern,” the SFA spokesman added.

Some medical experts, however, have cautioned that there is no “safe threshold” when it comes to the consumption of such products.

Dr Wong Seng Weng, a medical oncologist at The Cancer Centre of the Singapore Medical Group, said: “PAH causes genetic mutations that drive cancer formation. The cancers most strongly linked are lung, bladder and skin cancers.”

He added that the consumption of red meat, especially those cooked under high temperature, has a “dose-response relationship” with cancer risks.

“In other words, there isn’t a safe threshold. The more one consumes, the higher the risk,” Dr Wong said, adding: “Processed red meats such as ham, bacon, sausages and bak kwa are probably worse than fresh red meat.”

“Cut down the consumption of red meat, not just grilled ones,” he advised.

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