Mooncake scare is a Mid-Autumn Festival tradition

This year it’s a cancer-causing substance found in excessive levels that’s made the news. But while the traditional mooncake is in itself threatening enough, eating a few a year probably won’t kill you.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 12:44am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 September, 2016, 12:44am

It’s not aflatoxin B1 in mooncakes people need to worry about in a few brands. It’s the fat, sugar and sodium in all mooncakes.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is fast approaching. Journalistic tradition dictates the need for a health-scare story about mooncakes this time of year. This year, it’s the turn of the cancer-causing substance.

Apparently if you consume aflatoxins on a regular basis, they can give you liver cancer. Aflatoxin B1 has a higher risk of causing cancer in people with the hepatitis B or C virus. But most people would probably develop high blood pressure and heart diseases long before that.

Macau’s health authorities said the dangerous substance has been found to exceed the permitted level of 5 micrograms for every 1,000g per sample by 2.48 micrograms.

In Hong Kong, the legal level is 15 micrograms. The mooncake samples were made by Hang Heung Cake Shop in Hong Kong and a hotel in Macau. Hang Heung has said it will not recall the mooncakes in Hong Kong. Outrage ensues.

We won’t pull our mooncakes yet, Hong Kong brand insists despite exceeding Macau carcinogen level

Secretary for Food and Health Dr Ko Wing-man yesterday said there was no commonly accepted danger level for Aflatoxin, so different jurisdictions have different standards. Macau has asked manufacturers and retailers to stop selling the products or recall those already sold.

While Hang Heung’s insensitive response has raised eyebrows, it’s not illegal, at least in Hong Kong. But mooncakes are bad enough as they are, without all those nasty toxins.

Some mooncakes contain sweeteners up to 42.7 grams per 100-gram serving, which is equivalent to eight sugar cubes, or half an adult’s recommended daily sugar intake. The worst have up to 376 milligrams per 100-gram serving, plus 27 grams of fat.

According to the Centre for Food Safety, you will need to swim freestyle for 50 minutes or cycle for 40 minutes to work off the calories of an average mooncake.

Of course, there is an unending list of mooncake styles, fillings and crusts. But the government’s Committee on Reduction of Salt and Sugar in Food has warned that all types of mooncake contain a very high level of sugar.

So, me worry about toxins? The traditional mooncake is threatening enough.

But eating a few once a year probably won’t kill you – even those with aflatoxins.