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What you should know about boric acid

What is boric acid and its use?

Boric acid (H3BO3) is an antiseptic, pesticide and a weak fungicide. It always be used for insect control, wood preservative in furniture industry, glass industry and also in medical field.

What is preservative?

Preservative means any substances that, when added to food, is capable of inhibiting, retarding or arresting the process of decomposition, fermentation or acidification of such food but shall not include herb, spice, vinegar or wood smoke.

What are the preservative that allowed in Food Regulations 1985?

Food Regulations 1985 only allowed certain preservatives (sulphur dioxide, benzoic acid; propionic acid, also its sodium, potassium, calcium salt; sodium nitrate, sodium nitrite, potassium nitrate and potassium nitrite) and antimicrobial (chlorine dioxide and hydrogen peroxide) in certain food. Hence, oric acid is not included in the list.

Under the Food Law, is it an offence to use boric acid in food and what is the penalty?

Use of boric acid in food violated Sub Section 13 (1) Food Act 1983 which stated that “Any person who prepares or sell any food that has in or upon it any substance which is poisonous, harmful or otherwise injurious to health commits an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand ringgit or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years or to both”.

What are the foods that always contain boric acid?

Although boric acid is not allowed in food, it had been found in pasta type of food such as yellow noodles, kueh teow, laksa, loh se fun, wantan noodles, Hokkien noodles, bee hoon, spring roll wrappers and bak chang.

The presence of boric acid in food or food product is due to unethical attitude of some greedy food producer without considering the safety aspect of food to the consumer. Boric acid is used by these food producers to extend the product shelf-life and its freshness.

What are the side effects if boric acid present in food?

Individuals who ate food that contained high level of boric acid will experience nausea, vomiting diarrhea, dermatitis, abnormal function of kidney, acute dysfunction of blood circulation and death, depends to the level of boric acid absorbed by the body.

How to detect the presence of boric acid in the foods?

Analysis using turmeric water is a crude test to detect the presence of boric acid, however the test is not a confirmatory test. It can give a false positive result. In mee processing for example, additional of soda water (Natrium bicarbonate) have been used to get the expected texture. The reaction between soda water and turmeric can cause a changing of color from yellow to red. Therefore, the presence of boric acid can only be confirm through lab analysis.

Advise to consumers

Consumers are advised not to use turmeric water as a test to verify the presence of boric acid. Consumers should report to any nearest District Health Ofiice, State Health Department or through Food Safety and Quality Division website (http://fsq.moh.gov.my) pertaining to suspicious of boric acid presence in food.

 

Last reviewed : 19 April 2012
Writer : Norrani bt. Eksan
Reviewer : En. Badruzzaman bin Abdul Rahim