Following news that the UK government's food-health watchdog, the Food Standards Agency, has warned consumers and restaurant owners in the United Kingdom to avoid 22 named soy products, Singapore's Ministry of Environment has announced that soy sauces and other Asian sauces sold in Singapore are safe to consume.

The safety issue in the United Kingdom concerned the level of chloropropanols in soy and other sauce products. Scientists believe that acid-hydrolized vegetable protein, a common seasoning ingredient, may be carcinogenic. The harmful chemicals 3-MCPD and 1.3-DCP, which belong to the chloropropanol family, are usually produced when this protein is added to seasoning. UK health inspectors visited shops and supermarkets and ordered hundreds of thousands of bottles to be destroyed, while consumers and Asian restaurants were advised to dispose of these sauces if they had any.

Two sauce makers have criticized the report that condemned some of their products as unsafe for consumption, claiming that the Food Standards Agency's warning failed to tell consumers the full story. They maintained that the samples which the agency tested were manufactured in 1999, the year in which it became known that acid-hydrolized vegetable protein could be a health hazard. Both companies insisted that they acted to address the problem in 1999, revising their recipes to remove the suspect ingredient. They stated that subsequent test results of their products proved negative, while oyster sauce produced at the time is no longer available on supermarket shelves.

In the wake of the Food Standards Agency's report the Singapore's Ministry of Environment assured consumers that it rigorously tests the chloropropanols levels of soy products intended for sale in Singapore. Only those products found to be safe for consumption are allowed on the market. Supermarket chains such as NTUC FairPrice and Cold Storage have backed up the ministry, asserting that all sauces sold in Singapore have passed through stringent checks and are safe.

The Ministry of Environment has adopted the allowable limit of 0.02 parts per million of 3-MPCD established by the European Union. Food products with levels that exceed this limit may not be sold in Singapore.

For further information on this topic please contact Lawrence Teh at Rodyk & Davidson by telephone (+65 225 2626) or by fax (+65 225 1838) or by e-mail ([email protected]).

This update was extracted and edited from news in Singapore's The Straits Times, with supplementary material provided by the Ministry of Environment.
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