Malaysia probes Thailand’s report on toxic levels of nitrite in sausages

MALAYSIA – The Health Ministry’s Food Safety and Quality division of Malaysia is investigating the presence of toxic levels of nitrite, a type of preservative, in sausages manufactured in Thailand.

Mohd Salim Dulatti, the Senior Director of the Food Safety and Quality division, said there were currently a total of 207 manufactured meat products, including sausages, that had been tested for nitrite content levels.

This is consequent to Thailand Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) report in which sausage products tested contained excessive nitrite above the permitted level.

“Analysis report showed that all 207 manufactured meat samples collected, both local and imported, are complying with the prescribed level, which is not exceeding 80mg/kg, in line with the Codex international standards.

“Health Ministry (MoH) is currently seeking more information from the Thai embassy regarding the sausage products involved,” he said.

Sodium nitrite is used to speed up the curing of meat and also to impart an attractive colour. However, nitrite in high concentration can react with the body’s haemoglobin to produce methemoglobin, which reduces the blood’s oxygen-carrying capacity in infants and young children.

Excessive intake can cause a person to quickly feel tired, experience difficulty in breathing, dizziness, headache, and palpitations.

“Twenty-two samples contained levels of the food preservative nitrite that exceeded the legal limit of 80 milligrams per kilogram."

Weerachai Nolwachai,Deputy Secretary-General, Malaysia FDA Tweet

Thailand FDA had started the testing after the Ramathibodi Poison Centre reported that 14 children had been hospitalised with methemoglobinemia – a blood disorder caused by ingesting nitrite – after eating sausages that had no FDA approval stamp.

The children ate sausages in Chiang Mai, Phetchaburi, Saraburi, Trang, Phayao, Songkhla, Nakhon Si Thammarat, and Kanchanaburi.

The FDA took samples from 102 brands of sausages nationwide. Out of 44 samples tested so far from sausages collected, 22 were substandard. FDA Deputy Secretary-General, Weerachai Nolwachai, said the producers of the substandard sausages are now facing legal action.

“Twenty-two samples contained levels of the food preservative nitrite that exceeded the legal limit of 80 milligrams per kilogram. All were sold without an FDA approval stamp on the packaging and came from factories which are not FDA-registered as food manufacturers,” he said.

The public and street vendors have been advised to check for the official FDA stamp on packaging as well as other information, like the manufacturer, manufacturing date, expiration date, and ingredients, Weerachai said.

More than 20 manufacturers in Thailand are now facing fines and penalties for using harmful amounts of the substances in sausages.

Mohd Salim said the MoH would continue to monitor food safety in the local market and the country’s gateways in complying with the Food Act 1983 and the regulations under it.

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