Sacks of food ingredients are inspected in Changhua, central Taiwan. (Photo/Wu Min-ching)
A retired chemistry teacher in Taiwan has been denounced for using his knowledge to produce maleic acid an illegal food additive, and sell it to food factories around Taiwan to make their products crispier.
Maleic acid is usually used as a compound in products such as glue, paper and various kinds of wrapping materials, according to an official from the country's Department of Health, which says it will make a detailed record of the factories that used it. The compound is hazardous to human health if consumed.
During a legislative hearing, Chao Tien-lin, a legislator from the main opposition Democratic Progressive Party, said he was informed at the beginning of this year of a chemistry teacher who retired from Tainan Chang Jung Senior High School in southern Taiwan who started to sell maleic acid over a decade ago.
Each time the teacher, surnamed Wang, teaches a factory to make maleic acid, he would receive between NT$500,000 to NT$1 million (US$16,700-$33,500) in return. The compound has been found in food products including tapioca balls, noodles and tempura.
Wang also sold his know-how to customers in Vietnam and Thailand as well as other Southeast Asian countries. Several Taiwanese brands are reportedly contaminated with maleic acid, according to Chao.
Several food factories in Taiwan claimed they were not aware if their ingredients contained the chemical. Chang Jung Senior High School said the teacher could have one who retired 15 years ago. Wang taught chemistry there for three years, then quit to teach at another school, it said.