SINGAPORE - Some local kueh manufacturers were taken by surprise last month when they were told by the Singapore Food Agency (SFA) that the production of various kueh products would be suspended due to the improper use of food additives.
The suspension came three months after SFA performed inspections in April and found high levels of benzoic acid and sorbic acid in various kueh products by nine local kueh manufacturers. Both chemicals are used in food preservation and allowed in only the filling of kueh products, within permissible limits.
Mr Sebastian Ong, operations manager at Tongli Food Manufacturing, told The Straits Times on Thursday (Aug 4) that his company was informed in April that the additives were not allowed in kueh. At the time, the company's yam cake was found to have contained the additives.
Mr Ong said: "We were shocked by the suspension in July because we had already stopped using the additives in April when we were told they were not allowed. We stopped using them immediately. And we made changes to our yam cake recipe to make sure that it was safe."
Changing the recipe took almost a month of trial and error, added Mr Ong.
"It was not easy. We had to make sure that the kueh could last on the shelf for a certain amount of time and also had to ensure that the texture and taste was not compromised. It took us about three weeks of recipe testing."
Mr Ong said business dropped by about 10 per cent since the company stopped production of its yam cake to make the necessary recipe changes.
SFA suspended the operations of nine manufacturers on July 26. On July 28, Tiong Bahru Tian Bo Shui Kueh, which owns the popular Jian Bo brand of chwee kueh, had its suspension lifted when it was able to produce test results showing its current products did not contain sorbic acid.
Four more manufacturers - Thomson Foodstuff Manufacturing, Delight Baker, AMK Nonya Kueh and Lim Food Industries - had their suspensions lifted on Tuesday.
The remaining four manufacturers - Chit Guan Foodstuff, Sin Hwa Coconuts Industrial, Tongli Food Manufacturing and Toh Chuan Kee Foodstuff - had their suspensions lifted on Wednesday, after they, too, provided test results which showed that their current production was free from benzoic or sorbic acid.
In a Facebook post on Tuesday, AMK Nonya Kueh said: "We do not use any benzoic acid in our process and will work closely with SFA to make sure our suppliers abide by the regulations. After this incident, we will be more careful in using the right suppliers and will constantly seek better supplier alternatives."
ST reached out to AMK Nonya Kueh and the other seven manufacturers for comments on the situation but the companies either did not get back by the time of reporting or declined to comment.
According to SFA, benzoic and sorbic acid are allowed for addition into fillings like red bean paste and lotus paste as they help to extend the shelf life of the fillings.
SFA said kueh products are typically made fresh for sale, have a short shelf life, are displayed at room temperature and sold for consumption within the same day, or the next, if refrigerated. Hence, the further addition of benzoic and sorbic acid into kueh products is not considered to be justified.