Thursday, October 8, 2009

Ministry restricts sale of imported dried fruits due to high lead content


KUALA LUMPUR: The sale of 18 types of dried plum and prune from China, Taiwan and other Asian countries has been restricted by the Health Ministry after high degrees of lead was detected.

The foodstuff - known as asam or jeruk in Malay and kiam sui tee (salty, sour and sweet) in Hokkien which are immensely popular as tidbits among Malaysians - has been put on Level 5 alert by the ministry’s Food Safety and Quality Division under its Food Information System of Malaysia.

This means that the division would hold the products for testing and would only release them for sale if they pass the test.

The highest alert level of 6 involves an immediate rejection of a product.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai said for the moment, dried fruit products by other manufacturers and distributors would be permitted to be sold locally.

“If these 18 products are found in the local market, they will be seized and sampled for lead analysis,” he told reporters after launching the ministry’s management conference here yesterday.

Lead, in cumulative amounts over time, causes nervous system disorders and distorts brain development, especially in children.

Liow said the monitoring began following a US Food and Drug Administration report on Oct 1 that alerted consumers over the dried fruit sold by the 15 manufacturers due to lead contamination.

“If a product by a manufacturer or distributor is found to contain more than the permitted two parts per million (ppm), legal action will be taken under the Food Regulations 1985,” Liow said.

The 18 products apparently had lead levels of up to 30 ppm.

Asked if any of the 18 products were being sold locally, the minister said the division was checking on this.

Meanwhile, Liow announced that former International Trade and Industry Ministry deputy secretary-general Datuk Ooi Say Chuan had been appointed Malaysian Health Tourism Council chief executive officer.

He said the council, to be launched in December by the Prime Minister, would focus on consolidating private and Government efforts in promoting Malaysia as a health tourism destination.

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