SINGAPORE: Disposable chopsticks in Singapore are "generally safe" to use, said the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) on Wednesday (Nov 7) after it tested samples of the utensils for sulphur dioxide residue.
Disposable chopsticks, specifically those made of bamboo or wood, are bleached using sulphur dioxide to prevent the growth of mould and pests, said CASE.
However, sulphur dioxide residue may be harmful in excessive amounts as it can affect the respiratory system, and may cause breathing difficulties and skin allergies to some.
Tests by CASE showed that there was less than 400mg/kg of sulphur dioxide found in the 20 samples collected from departmental stores, supermarkets and stores in the heartland areas.
The sample size excluded disposable chopsticks provided at takeaway cooked food stalls "as a form of control and also because of traceability issues".
According to the test results, a range of residual sulphur dioxide between 7mg/kg and 364 mg/kg was detected in the 20 samples.
While Singapore does not have a specific standard regulating the amount of sulphur dioxide residue in disposable chopsticks, CASE compared the findings to China and Taiwan's standards - less than 600 mg/kg and less than 500 mg/kg of sulphur dioxide residue respectively.
In response to Channel NewsAsia's queries, CASE's executive director Loy York Jiun said the consumer watchdog felt "there was merit" in studying the issue following reports in recent years of harmful chemicals found in disposable chopsticks in China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Malaysia.
He noted, for instance, that Taiwan authorities had ordered disposable chopsticks to be removed from the shelves a few years ago after deadly toxins were found.
In its media release on Wednesday, CASE said that as a cautionary measure, consumers are advised to avoid using chopsticks that look too white or give off a pungent smell.
"As sulphur dioxide is used as a bleaching agent, disposable chopsticks that appear too white are likely to have been bleached before, thus potentially containing sulphur dioxide," said CASE.
"Disposable chopsticks that give off a pungent smell should also be avoided as this may indicate plausible chemical use."
It also advised consumers not to reuse disposable chopsticks and seek medical attention if they feel unwell.