The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) has issued a statement to clarify a miscommunication following Jian Bo Tiong Bahru Shui Kueh's two-day suspension on Jul. 26 and 27.
The local kueh manufacturer had its operations reinstated by SFA on Jul. 28, after it disputed the agency's findings that its products contained sorbic acid, a food additive.
However, with SFA's clarification, it has since transpired that there were two separate issues: SFA had provided the wrong information, but some Jian Bo products did in fact contain the food additive above the permissible limits, which were only detected during the enforcement spot check.
SFA shared wrong information on usage of sorbic acid
In response to Mothership's queries, SFA shared in detail the timeline of events that led to the shop's suspension.
SFA said it had first given incorrect information to the kueh maker on Apr. 12 when Jian Bo had asked if they were allowed to use sorbic acid.
The agency had informed Jian Bo that sorbic acid is allowed in kueh products, up to the maximum permissible limits of 1,000ppm.
However, under the Singapore food regulations, sorbic acid is not allowed in kueh products, except for its filling.
If used in filling, sorbic acid must not exceed the maximum permissible limits of 1,000ppm.
Jian Bo was later informed by SFA of the above correct legal requirements on Apr. 20.
Conducted inspection and suspended operations
But a day before sending Jian Bo the correction about the incorrect requirements of sorbic acid that were given, SFA conducted an inspection at the shop on Apr. 19, as part of its ongoing enforcement efforts.
During the inspection of three products there, SFA found two products, 9 Layer Kueh and Tapioca Kueh, to contain high levels of sorbic acid above the limit of 1,000ppm.
SFA suspended the production, distribution and sale of the affected products from Jian Bo on Jul. 26 after investigations, as these were not in compliance with food safety requirements.
Revoked suspension order
On Jul. 27, Jian Bo then provided test results conducted by a third party accredited lab, showing that their products are free of sorbic acid.
Based on these results, and considering that "adequate measures have since been put in place" by Jian Bo, SFA revoked the suspension order on Jul. 28.
SFA stated that it will review its internal procedures moving forward.
"We regret the miscommunication to [Jian Bo] that had given them the wrong impression that up to 1,000ppm of sorbic acid was permitted in the production of their kueh products. Moving forward, SFA will review internal procedures to ensure that food safety requirements are communicated fully and accurately to food manufacturers."
Sorbic acid was removed from products after clarification in April
Eric Ang, Jian Bo's company director, told Today that he had emailed SFA in April 2022 to ask if sorbic acid is permissible for use in kuehs.
The agency had affirmed that it was.
He shared that during a random inspection, SFA told Jian Bo it had detected sorbic acid in its products, which was not permitted.
Ang said he removed sorbic acid from Jian Bo's products from that day onwards.
He was not issued any warnings and was taken by surprise when SFA issued the suspension order on Jul. 26, reported Today.
Ang said the incident has had a significant financial and reputational impact to the business.
A Jian Bo representative told Mothership the company has had a strong track record over past 65 years and this was the first time they had encountered such an issue.
Jian Bo had to stop the production and sale of the three food items for two days.
It was concerned that the incident would cause a loss of confidence amongst its customers and business partners.
Nevertheless, the representative said while some customers were concerned about the food standards, they are heartened by their many loyal customers who supported them during this time.
"We will continue to work closely with SFA to ensure stringent food safety standards stipulated in the Act and the Food Regulations before distribution and sale are maintained," said the representative.
Jian Bo is currently monitoring the situation, and following SFA's clarification, and hopes to "regain our customers and business partners' confidence in our brand".
Top images via Jian Bo Tiong Bahru Shui Kueh/Facebook.