Contaminated bananas slip past Food Ministry

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Contaminated bananas slip past Food Ministry

The national food regulator’s ability to guarantee food safety came into question after it was revealed earlier this week that the Ministry of Food and Drug Safety failed to detect imported bananas containing high levels of pesticides during a customs inspection.

The authorities confirmed earlier this week that three local importers - Shinsegae Food, Jinwon Trading and Sooil Trading - distributed bananas from the Philippines that were tainted with a level of iprodione that was 10 to 100 times the amount permitted by the ministry.

Iprodione is a pesticide that prevents the germination of fungal spores in crops, but it can be harmful in high doses due to its toxicity.

The Food Ministry recalled the questionable fruit after it carried out an inspection of bananas being sold at retail chain E-Mart from last Wednesday through Monday.

The recall came after Dongsuh Foods was found earlier this month to have sold cereal contaminated with E. coli. The Food Ministry also came under fire because it knew about the cereal but was slow to issue a recall.

The banana recall on Monday came after the Seoul Metropolitan Government, which has its own food safety unit, first detected the high pesticide level in fruit stored at an E-Mart distribution center on Oct. 17.

The amount of bananas exceeding the iprodione limit was 1.45 million kilograms (3.2 million pounds), and about 760,000 kilograms had already been transported to large discount chain E-Mart where some of them were sold.

The bananas distributed by Shinsegae Food contained 0.18 milligrams of the pesticide per kilogram while bananas from Jinwon Trading had 0.23 to 1.98 mg/kg. The standard limit for pesticide residue is 0.02 mg/kg. The Food Ministry did not list the amount of pesticides in bananas from Sooil Trading.

The ministry revised the limit down to 0.02 mg/kg last month from 5 mg/kg as a precaution, but the authorities did not maintain proper follow-up tests for the stronger standard.

The ministry said that it only conducted sensory tests on the bananas - examining them but not measuring pesticide levels - because the products had passed an earlier inspection by the Philippine fruit companies.

Following the revelation, the regulator said it will carry out tougher customs inspections on all bananas.

The Philippines’ export companies involved are Mt. Kitanglad Agri Dev’t. Corp, Lapanday Foods Corporation, Philippine Fresh Fruits Davao Corporation and Laysun (Far East) Limited.

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