Heavy metals, other elements seen in instant noodle oil packets

A magazine report says that tests of random samples of popular instant noodles revealed the presence of arsenic, lead and copper in brands including Master Kong Spicy Beef Noodles and Korean Shin Spicy Noodles. A-she Hakka Noodles even tested positive for mercury. The Ministry of Health and Welfare has responded that it is investigating the sources of such elements and assessing the risks to health they represent.

Yan Tsung-hai, a physician in the Department of Nephrology at Linkou Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, says that although the amounts of metals detected in the samples are quite small, there should be no such elements at all in the oil packets included with instant noodles. He suggest s the government carry out further re-sampling and inspection to confirm the accuracy of the report. If there is a problem with elements including heavy metals in foods such as instant metals, the source of pollution must be identified as quickly as possible.

Yan points out that the magazine report notes the total amounts of arsenic found in testing and inspection, but many seafoods contain organic arsenic and testing should be designed to distinguish between organic and inorganic arsenic. He says that if the oil packets are found to contain lead and mercury, they have presumably been contaminated by traces of the elements in certain ingredients. Higher levels of copper in tests could indicate contamination from copper during the manufacturing process or the use of oil or copper chlorophyll by the manufacturer.

The article also claimed that tests of ten sauces including President meat sauce and Korea Shin Spicy Noodle Sauce and other products revealed that Ve Wong Original Flavor Beef Noodle Soup contains trace amounts of copper, while Wu-mu Chive Noodles contain arsenic and copper.

Master Kong Spicy Beef Noodles, Shin Ramen Noodles, President Old Chang Pickled Beef Noodles and Vedan Wei-wei A Pork and Chicken Soup were all found to contain traces of arsenic, lead and copper, while A-she Hakka Noodles were also found to contain mercury .

Tsai Shu-chen of the Food and Drug Administration’s Foods Section explains that instant noodles and the oils and flavorings that are included with them are produced using a variety of processed food products. She notes that like most other countries around the world Taiwan does not specify standards for heavy metals in food products like the oil packets in instant noodles; moreover, heavy metals are widely present in nature. Tsai says the most common practice overseas is to check for such elements at the front end of food processing.

Tsai emphasizes that the risks posed by heavy metals in food depends on the concentration and the amount of a certain food ingested. For example, a 60-kg adult would need to consume 96 packages of instant noodles including about 70 tablespoons (at 15 grams a spoon) of flavorings, in order to exceed the limit set for safe ingestion of lead.

Similarly, one would have to eat 917 packages of dried noodles containing 639 tablespoons of seasoning sauce to exceed the allowable daily intake for copper. As for arsenic, Tsai says the amounts detected in products from Taiwan are not appreciably higher than those found in other areas of the world.

Tsai notes that there are currently no standards for elements like heavy metals in oil packets for instant noodles, adding that traces of heavy metals are sometimes picked up in the later processes of manufacturing. She says that highly-sensitive testing equipment can even detect traces of heavy metals from environmental and background sources, making it even harder to identify the source of some elements.

Wu Hsiu-ying, the Deputy Director of the Food and Drug Administration, says that management of the contents of the oils in oil packets packaged with instant noodles should be handled by the original producers of the oil, and oils should be tested at the original factory.