SFA starts testing ice creams for pesticide linked to cancer, but results negative so far

Since July, SFA has ordered four Haagen-Dazs products imported from France to be pulled from shelves here. PHOTO: AFP

SINGAPORE - The authorities have started testing ice-cream products sold in Singapore, including those by popular brand Haagen-Dazs, for the presence of a pesticide linked to cancer.

The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) said that no product it has sampled so far has been found to contain the pesticide called ethylene oxide.

"Should ethylene oxide be detected beyond trace levels, SFA will initiate recalls of the affected products as a precautionary measure," said the agency in a Facebook post last Friday (Aug 19).

Since July, SFA has ordered four Haagen-Dazs products imported from France to be pulled from shelves here.

This was after food regulators overseas issued recalls on the products, which include those with flavours such as Belgian chocolate, cookies and cream, and vanilla.

According to a report from the United States Environmental Protection Agency, long-term exposure to ethylene oxide in humans can cause irritation of the eyes, skin, nose, throat and lungs, and damage to the brain and nervous system.

Exposure to ethylene oxide increases the risk of cancer, according to the same report.

SFA said the amount of the pesticide that is typically consumed does not pose any health risks, although it took a "precautionary approach" with the recent recalls.

Ethylene oxide may be used to fumigate agricultural products to prevent microbial contamination.

Traces of this pesticide found in fumigated products such as vanilla pods and locust gum, which are used in very small quantities, may carry into the finished ice-cream products.

"The consumption of such ice-cream products with trace amounts of ethylene oxide does not present any health risk, as it is not a food product that is consumed by individuals regularly and in significant quantities," said SFA.

The agency has also started to review the permitted level of ethylene oxide in food sold here. This is part of its regular review of food standards, based on the latest scientific assessments and international developments, it said.

Currently, ethylene oxide is not authorised for use in food except in the sterilisation of spices.

In response to queries from The Straits Times earlier this month, Haagen-Dazs said: "Haagen-Dazs does not use ethylene oxide in any of its products and our products adhere to all food safety regulations and strict standards in every market in which we operate.

"We are therefore working closely with national regulators to take relevant market action as required."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.