Cancer alert for biscuit junkies

Top News | 19 Oct 2021

Sophie Hui

Eating too many biscuits could raise the risk of cancer, the Consumer Council says after tests on 60 samples of prepackaged biscuits were all found to contain carcinogens.

The samples - including crackers, sandwich biscuits, wafers, finger biscuits, soda biscuits and digestives - all contained the carcinogens glycidol or acrylamide, which are produced in high-temperature processing of biscuits. Some also contained 3-MCPD.

Glycidol and acrylamide have been found to induce cancer in some experimental animals, with a joint expert committee of the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization suggesting people should lower their intakes of these chemicals as much as possible.

And 3-MCPD is an organic chemical compound that can affect the kidneys and male reproductive organs.

Fifty-four samples were found to contain from 11 to 3,100 micrograms per kilogram of glycidol, with a cheese soda biscuit sample from China containing the highest amount.

And a Muji shiruko sandwich cracker contained 620 g/kg of acrylamide, the highest level.

Four of 55 samples detected with acrylamide exceeded the European Union benchmark for biscuits and wafers of no more than 350 g/kg while three crackers exceeded the limit of 400 g/kg.

Fifty-six samples were detected with 3-MCPD.

The European Food Safety Authority recommends the daily intake of the contaminant should not be more than 120 g for a 60kg adult. But the tested biscuits were found to contain 15 to 2,000 g/kg.

The tests also found 33 samples could be classified as "high-fat" food under Centre for Food Safety guidelines.

Twenty-seven samples were "high sugar" - they contained more than 15 grams of sugar per 100 grams - while 13 samples were "high-sodium" - containing more than 600 milligrams of sodium per 100 grams.

Council chief executive Gilly Wong Fung-han said manufacturers can reformulate ingredients to make better biscuits, adding: "If you can select healthier choices in making biscuits possibly you can minimize contaminants."

She also urged people to be more controlled and disciplined when eating biscuits.

"When consumers want to enjoy biscuits," she said, "they need to be mindful of the contaminant levels."

Lui Wing-cheong, vice chairman of the council's research and testing committee, said biscuits should not be a substitute for regular meals.

He added that people can choose healthier alternatives for snacks - such as fruit, multigrain bread, cherry tomatoes, unsalted roasted nuts and seeds, low-sugar soy milk and low-fat or skimmed milk.

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