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On May 23, 2011, the Taiwan Department of Health (DOH) discovered that Di (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), an industrial chemical used to soften plastic packaging, was being used in a clouding agent in several brands of beverages in violation of Taiwan regulations prohibiting the addition of DEHP to food products. The clouding agent involved is a legal food additive that is used to make beverages such as fruit juices more visually appealing, but the banned DEHP was reported to have been added to replace more expensive palm oil.1

Subsequent investigation revealed the presence of DEHP as well as another type of phthalate called Di-isononyl phthalate (DINP) in additional food products. That was the beginning of a series of developments calling attention to the issue of phthalates in food and the need for testing to protect consumers against phthalate-related health hazards.

Chronologically:

On May 28, 2011

The Taiwan DOH announced that any DEHP-contaminated sports drinks, tea drinks, fruit juice, fruit jam/fruit nectar or jelly - as well as any DEHP-contaminated food in tablet/capsule/powder form - must be removed from store shelves.2

Taiwan then established a standard of 1 ppm for six phthalates (DEHP, DIDP, DINP, BBP, DBP, DNOP) and China established standards of DBP 0.3 ppm; DINP 9 ppm; and DEHP 1.5 ppm. (Currently the international acceptance criteria for the daily maximum consumption of phthalates range from 0.6-30 mg for a 60 kg adult, depending on the phthalate compound).3

On May 29, 2011

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) issued an advisory about the DEHP problem in Taiwan, followed by an alert two days later and recalls of multiple products imported from Taiwan throughout the month of June.4

On June 5, 2011

China suspended the import of 858 kinds of food products made by 55 companies in Taiwan, including beverages, food products and food additives.5

On June 21, 2011

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (U.S. FDA) was informed by DOH that 57 items with phthalate contamination had been shipped to the United States. FDA was monitoring the situation to assess any impact on the U.S. food supply.6

Also on June 21, 2001, Australia withdrew an asparagus juice that had been identified as one of the products made with plasticizer-contaminated emulsifiers in Taiwan.7

On June 23, 2011

The Taiwan DOH reported the export of contaminated products to 22 countries and regions (USA, China, Germany, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Philippines, Australia, Malaysia, South Africa, Argentina, UK, Canada, New Zealand, Macao, Singapore, Egypt, Marshall Islands, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Brazil, Brunei, Japan), totaling 34 manufacturers and 206 products.8

By July 18, 2011

The Taiwan DOH had identified 315 manufactures and 877 products with illegal phthalates in them.9 Phthalates are widely used to enhance elasticity and flexibility in plastic products such as polyvinylchloride (PVC). In many research studies, high levels of DEHP have been shown to damage the liver, kidneys, and/ or reproductive abilities.

Tolerable daily DEHP intakes are shown in Table 1 below, with the no-observed adverse effect level (NOAEL) for reproductive and developmental effects at 4.8 mg/kg body weight per day. Taiwan DOH has publicized a standard method for the determination of phthalate plasticizers in food by using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS-MS).

SGS’s global testing network can help you check food for phthalates by carrying out measurements on a wide range of plasticizers utilizing state-of-the-art high resolution instruments. Please contact us for more information.

Table 1. Overview table of critical toxic effects and Tolerable Daily Intakes (TDI)

PhthalateCritical Toxic Effect on TDI (in mg per kg body weight per day)
DEPH Reproduction 0.5
BBP Reproduction and Development 0.5
DBP 0.01
DINP Liver 0.15
DIDP
DNOP Liver and Thyroid No TDI available
DIBP Reproduction and Development

1 FDA Joint Investigation Found Food Additive Tainted with DEHP
2 Investigation Update 2011-05-28 – Food Contaminated with Plasticizer
3 Illegal Addition of Plasticizer to Food
4 CFIA Certain Foods and Beverages Imported from Taiwan may Contain Phthalates
5 Ban extended to more Taiwan food imports
6 FDA warns of Taiwanese food, beverages imports with unapproved ingredient
7 Taiwan food contamination reaches Australia
8 Cross-departmental Meeting (19th) for Food Safety (Cloudy Agent with Plasticizer)
9 List of products with cloudy agents contaminated by plasticizer

James Cook
Food Safety Technologist
SGS – North America

t: +1 973 575 5252

ABOUT SGS

The SGS Group is the global leader and innovator in inspection, verification, testing and certification services. Founded in 1878, SGS is recognized as the global benchmark in quality and integrity. With more than 67,000 employees, SGS operates a network of over 1,250 offices and laboratories around the world.