A cancer scare in the UK has put Shanghai's food safety officials on the alert after products manufactured by food companies including Heinz and Nestle were found to have raised levels of acrylamide, a chemical identified as a possible carcinogen.
Most of the products tested by the UK's Food Standards Agency, including crisps, biscuits and instant coffee, are produced by local manufacturers in England and not available on the Chinese market, Shanghai Daily learned yesterday.
However, two kinds of Nestle's Nescafe Gold Blend freeze-dried instant coffee are available in some supermarkets and on Taobao, the online shopping site.
Heinz Banana Biscotti, a biscuit for babies and young children, is also available online in China.
Shanghai Daily failed to reach Heinz officials for comment yesterday.
In a statement, Nestle said it had been strictly observing China's food safety regulations and laws and has been providing consumers with safe products.
"Nestle has been working to find out the forming mechanism of acrylamide and is seeking new manufacturing processes to lower its level," the company said.
Gu Zhenhua, deputy director of the Shanghai Food Safety Office, said yesterday: "Shanghai Food and Drug Administration has been monitoring the level of acrylamide in food, but currently there is no national standard for the component."
Acrylamide occurs naturally during the frying, baking or roasting of food at very high temperatures.
Gu said that according to a previous survey the levels of acrylamide in domestic consumers was not high because of their eating habits. Gu said the bureau wouldn't be taking any products off the shelves but would be keeping a close eye on the situation.
The UK agency said its findings didn't indicate an immediate risk to public health and there was no need to change diets.
However, it also warned that long-term consumption could increase the risk of cancer and said it had been putting pressure on food companies to reduce acrylamide levels.
Laboratory studies suggest acrylamide has the potential to cause cancer in humans by interacting with the DNA in cells, the agency added.