Jakarta (The Jakarta Post/ANN) - Indonesia's food exports are suffering as foreign nations are declining to admit locally produced goods that they say contain tainted ingredients, a top food safety official says.
Many Indonesian food products have failed to gain access to foreign markets for not complying with their higher standards, Suratmono, the National Drug and Food Monitoring Agency's (BPOM) food certification and inspection chief, said yesterday.
"Some of our exported food products were not allowed to enter foreign markets as they were tainted with hazardous substances," he told reporters at a press conference.
Suratmono said some of the products, such as sweet soy sauce (kecap manis), were denied entry for containing hazardous substances or excessive added preservatives.
Several locally made brands of sweet soy sauce contained levels of sulphites that were already above the legal limits in other nations, the BPOM said.
Other products were tainted with hazardous substances such as aflatoxin, a naturally occurring toxin produced by mould, which has been found in peanut sauce used to make pecel, a blanched vegetable salad.
Meanwhile, Rhodamine B, a florescent dye, has been found in fried rice spices and bottled chilli sauce intended for export, and cyanide acid has been recorded in locally made crispy chips.
Citing a 1988 Health Minister regulation, Suratmono said that sulphites were an approved additive in the food manufacturing process.
"It's quite surprising us to see that some countries have imposed a ban on our locally-produced sweet soy sauce, saying that the products contain sulphites exceeding the maximum amount allowed," he said.
Sulphites are commonly used as preservatives and to prevent discoloration during the manufacturing process. Consuming foods with sulphites is said to be safe, although excessive sulphite consumption might trigger allergies.
The BPOM found that sulphites were likely added during the production of the palm sugar used to make the soy sauce.
"Farmers producing palm sugar have used a high amount of sulphites to preserve the sap they tap from palm trees to prevent it from either browning or fermenting," Suratmono said.
Poor raw materials have also added to the burden of the nation's food manufacturers.
During a regular food monitoring programme between 2009 and 2010, the BPOM found that 14 per cent of the products that were sampled from local markets contained either hazardous substances or excessive additives.
Separately, the chief of the BPOM's food product distribution, production and inspection sub-directorate, Chairun Nissa, said that the agency has stepped up work to ensure that local food manufactures used only the best quality raw materials.
Some sweet soy sauce companies, she said, had more stringent requirements for their raw material suppliers, including palm sugar suppliers.
"sulphites are legal. The presence of sulphites in foods is allowed; however, excessive use of sulphites can be harmful to health. So, they have educated farmers to avoid using sulphites excessively."
Separately, Franky Sibarani of the Indonesian Association of Food and Beverage Producers (Gapmmi) blamed farmers and said that more education was needed.
"Frankly speaking, tainted raw materials have only caused minor problem in our business. Yet, we need to make efforts in resolving these problems. No change will happen without their farming behavior changing," Sibarani told The Jakarta Post.
Despite rejection from several countries on Indonesia's food products, the BPOM has been struggling to prevent illegal food imports, including expired packaged food.
Last year, the agency revealed that illegal products worth 3.31 trillion rupiah (US$350.8 million) had caused massive losses for local food and beverage makers.