Cooking-oil cancer warning

Top News | Sophie Hui Jul 18, 2017
More than two thirds of cooking oil samples tested contain cancer-causing substances or phthalates, says the Consumer Council.

The watchdog tested 60 samples commonly found in the market, 41 of which contained one or more kinds of phthalates.

Five were at levels exceeding the limits of the European Union standard and the action level of the Centre for Food Safety, .

Phthalates are often called plasticizers and are used in hundreds of products, such as vinyl flooring, adhesives, detergents, lubricating oils, plastic clothes and personal products including soaps, shampoos, hair sprays and nail polishes.

While the center has been informed of its findings, the watchdog said one of the five products, Sunny Meadow Blended Canola Oil and Olive Oil, is no longer being sold.

Long-term intake of phthyalates has been shown to damage the development of the reproductive systems of laboratory animals.

Michael Hui King-man, chairman of the Consumer Council's publicity and community relations committee, said 42 of the samples contained 3-Monochloropropane (3-MCPD) and 46 contained genotoxic carcinogen glycidol. Two samples contained residual solvent chloroform.

Health experts and the European Food Safety Authority found that long- term consumption of 3-MCPD can affect the kidneys and male reproductive systems in animal experiments, while glycidol has been classified as a substance that can probably cause cancer.

At the moment, the government can regulate the safety of cooking oils based only on the provisions which cover all food items. There are no specific regulations or safety standards for edible fats and oils.

Safety concerns on cooking oils were initially raised in 2014 by the Taiwan gutter oil scandal. In 2015 the government proposed establishing regulations on edible fats and oils and the recycling of waste cooking oils to safeguard public health.

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department said the government has finished the public consultation and is establishing a specific regulatory proposal.

The Centre for Food Safety tested more than 2,250 cooking oil samples from 2014 to 2016 for different chemicals as well as metallic contaminants and mycotoxins.

Benzo[a]pyrene in four samples exceeded the action level and two lard samples exceeded the limit of active oxygen. All other samples passed.

The Consumer Council said the action level is an index and public can only use it as a reference, but no legal action can be taken if products exceeded the action level.

The watchdog said cooking oils are common ingredients and it urged the government to continue the legislative process and set up regulation and safety standards for cooking oils as soon as possible.

But the watchdog also said public does not need to be overly worried as consumers would need to take a large amount of cooking oil over an extended time period, such as drinking half bottle a day, to be harmed.

The council also found that some blended oils could be misleading as the ingredients are not listed in the descending order of weight or volume on the labels. For example, a product said to be "peanut oil" had more canola oil in its content.

It urged the industry to list the contents or composition of oils or fatty acids clearly on their labels.

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