South Korean food company Nongshim is facing scrutiny from consumer groups in Korea following the recall of its Shin Ramyun Black Tofu Kimchi instant noodles in Taiwan and Thailand, purportedly due to the detection of harmful substances.
The Thai Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) suspended the distribution of the product, recalling a total of 1,000 boxes, local media reported on Jan. 31.
The news came following reports that the TFDA intercepted the product after finding 0.075 mg/kg of ethylene oxide (EO), a substance classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, in the product's seasoning packets.
Nongshim has since denied that its products contained ethylene oxide, stating that what the agencies detected was 2-chloroethanol (2-CE).
However, the organic chemical compound 2-CE, generated as a by-product of EO, is classified as an extremely hazardous substance in the U.S.
"Taiwan and Europe regarded the two substances as identical and announced that they found ethylene oxide in the product, but the truth is that what they had detected was 2-chloroethanol," a Nongshim official told local media. "Korea and the United States consider the two substances different."
Despite Nongshim's assertion, Korean consumer groups are calling for a thorough examination and testing of Nongshim's products for harmful substances.
"It is difficult to understand Nongshim's statement that the substance is not a carcinogen and has no problem with the human body," the Citizens United for Consumer Sovereignty said in a statement released on Jan. 19. "We cannot trust its statement that there is no problem with its noodle products sold in Korea as no harmful substance has been detected."
In response to the criticisms, the company noted that it will further improve how it analyzes its raw materials.
In July last year, popular Filipino noodle brand Lucky Me! faced a similar controversy after at least 10 European Union countries issued health safety warnings against it due to "high levels of ethylene oxide."
Monde Nissin, a global food company based in the Philippines, issued a statement denying that ethylene oxide is added to their Lucky Me! product line.
The company, however, clarified that the substance is a "commonly used treatment in spices and seeds to control microbial growth typical in agricultural products" which may still show traces "when processed into seasoning and sauces."