Harmful bubble tea pearls recalled

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Taiwanese-produced tapioca “pearls” were recently taken off local shelves by the Taiwan Food and Drug Administration. What could be so harmful about these pearls?

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Sunright bubble tea pearls from Taiwan recalled

Shocking news of the Taiwanese brand, Sunright, having their tapioca balls recalled in local stores recently has startled many Singaporean fans of the ever-popular bubble tea drink. A favourite for both the young and old, bubble tea has long been a street hit for its flavourful teas mixed with chewy tapioca balls, more affectionately termed “pearls”.

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Why is it being recalled?

According to Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the product contains traces of maleic acid, a prohibited food additive that can cause kidney damage after long-term consumption. While occasional consumption of the food’s level of maleic acid is not harmful, eating it over extended periods of time may be damaging to the body.

As a result, a list of Taiwanese products has been recalled. The only product which Singapore imports is the Sunright brand tapioca ball and they have already been safely taken off the shelves by the local Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority (AVA).

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AVA’s official statement

“The Taiwan Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued an alert on the detection of maleic acid, an unapproved food additive, in some food products manufactured in Taiwan. Occasional consumption at the levels detected by Taiwan FDA does not pose any significant health risk. However, long term consumption of high levels of maleic acid can cause kidney damage.

Of the affected products, only Sunright brand tapioca balls were imported. AVA has informed local importers of Sunright brand tapioca balls to withdraw them from sale and the withdrawal has been completed. Consumers who have purchased the affected product should either return it to the retailer or discard the product and not consume it.

As a precautionary measure, AVA is conducting surveillance of other similar food products from Taiwan to ensure that they do not contain maleic acid.”

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Should I be worried?

While many have contributed to the hordes of criticism against bubble tea, it hasn’t stopped thousands who flock to such drink stores daily. Is bubble tea really harmful for your health and should you continue drinking it?

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In addition to high sugar levels and artificial flavours and colours found in bubble tea drinks, the pearls it contains also form a high-calorie and weight-gaining health deterrent. Many detractors slam the pearls as choking hazards for younger children too. While some researchers in Germany also created a huge hullabaloo last year over cancer-related substances found in the drink, bubble tea has in fact, after long and extensive food tests, been proven safe for consumption in Singapore.

Like many other sweet drinks that we all love to indulge in, bubble tea is definitely harmful when consumed in excess. Moderate consumption, however, appears to be safe as Singapore’s food authorities continue their vigilant checks against dangerous food items.

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Learn more about the popularity of bubble tea around the world in the video below:

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