The survey involved 40 samples, of which 21 did not contain detectable levels of 3-MCPD (3-monochloropropane-1,2-diol). A further five had very low levels - between 0.01 and 0.02 parts per million. But the level of 3-MCPD in nine of the remaining 14 samples exceeded one part per million.
The Department of Health has advised that there is no immediate risk to health from these products, but has confirmed that it would be prudent for the food industry to take action to minimise exposure to this contaminant.
The suppliers of the affected products are today being told to take appropriate steps to ensure that these products do not contain detectable levels of 3-MCPD in future. This is in line with earlier advice from the Food Advisory Committee (FAC) on the presence of this contaminant in food. "Considerable efforts have already been made by the food industry in the UK and in Europe to identify and minimise dietary sources of this contaminant, and it is essential that similar high standards should be applied to imported products, such as soy sauce.
"The results of this survey are being sent to the European Commission, under the Rapid Alert System for Foodstuffs, and we intend to repeat our request for the issues surrounding this contaminant to be fully aired at a meeting in Brussels of the Standing Committee for Foodstuffs. In addition, we shall carry out a further survey of soy sauce and similar products in one year's time to ensure that action has been taken."
The Minister said: "Surveys carried out recently in Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden have found similar levels of contamination in some soy sauce samples. Today's survey - which lists the brand names, in line with standard practice - covers a wide range of soy sauce and related products, such as oyster sauce and teriyaki sauce. The important message for consumers is that this is not an immediate health risk, and the action being taken by the JFSSG should ensure that it doesn't become one."
The contaminant 3-MCPD is the most common in the chloropropanol group of chemical contaminants. It is formed during the manufacture of the savoury food ingredient, acid-hydrolysed vegetable protein (acid-HVP). It may also occur at low levels in some foods and ingredients as a result of processing, storage conditions, or migration from certain food contact materials. 3-MCPD has been found to cause cancer in rats - but only when given in high doses over long periods.
The Food Advisory Committee (FAC) has recommended since 1996 that industry should take steps to ensure that 3-MCPD is not detectable in foods or food ingredients, when analysed by a suitably sensitive method of detecting 0.01 parts per million (ppm). This advice was confirmed in 1998 and, most recently, in May 1999.
For previous item, see 1 August 1999.