Three Hong Kong retail chains pull Taiwanese milk tea drink

Decision prompted by similar action in Singapore, which found unapproved food additive in popular beverage

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 August, 2016, 10:46pm

Three major retail chains in the city have voluntarily recalled about 1,000 to 2,000 boxes of a Taiwanese milk tea drink after Singapore took similar action because it contained a food additive that had not been approved.

Hong Kong’s Food and Environment Hygiene Department said it would not officially recall the drink on the grounds that the food additive was “generally recognised as safe” by US standards.

Taiwanese brand Chun Cui He’s Just Drink - Milk Tea was found to contain L-theanine, a substance not on the list of permitted food additives in Singapore, the city’s Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority said in a statement on Tuesday.

The news prompted convenience store chains 7-Eleven and Circle K to remove the popular milk tea beverage from their shelves across Hong Kong on Tuesday. Supermarket chain Wellcome also cancelled an order of 400 boxes from manufacturer Bifido Group, said Kirk Huang, a marketing specialist at the Taiwanese firm.

A spokeswoman for the A.S. Watson Group declined to comment if the drink had been recalled at its ParknShop supermarkets, but it was still selling at its Taste store in Wan Chai on Wednesday.

Huang estimated a total of 1,000 to 2,000 boxes of its products were affected in Hong Kong.

“We hope our milk tea drink can go back on sale in Hong Kong soon,” Huang said, adding that its shelf life was only 25 days. “Local retailers voluntarily recalled the products following Singapore’s action. It was not demanded by the Hong Kong government.”

Huang stressed the substance was allowed in Taiwan, Japan, Korea and mainland China.

Hong Kong does not have specific regulations on the substance, the Post has learnt.

The drink has become popular among Hongkongers since its introduction to the city last year.

Other milk products from Chun Cui He were still on sale at 7-Eleven shops across the city on Wednesday, including its latte and green tea-flavoured products.

L-theanine will not cause adverse health effects in humans under normal conditions
Food and Environment Hygiene Department spokeswoman

A worker at a Wan Chai 7-Eleven said she had received the order to remove the milk tea on Tuesday and her store had done so by that evening.

“We didn’t receive any memos about the latte and green tea. We were only told that one product was affected,” she said.

A Circle K staffer said she was given a similar order on Tuesday. “The milk tea sells very well. Taiwan products are popular in Hong Kong.”

A spokeswoman at the department said in an e-mail response to the Post that L-theanine was “generally recognised as safe” according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

“L-theanine will not cause adverse health effects in humans under normal conditions,” she added, as it was considered an “organic compound found primarily in [certain] plant and fungal species”.

Professor Terence Lau Lok-ting of Polytechnic University’s Food Safety Consortium said the additive was used by some manufacturers to enhance the tea flavour and would not normally cause adverse reactions.

Additional reporting by Ernest Kao