Sale of ‘fake’ orange juice sparks food safety scandal in Thailand

29-05-2016 Variety News

The arrest of a couple for making and selling ‘fake’ orange juice in Thailand has led to wider concerns about food safety.

Photos published on social media showed the Vietnamese couple’s illicit production of the so-called orange juice, and prompted police to arrest them on Monday.

The pair, who are also facing immigration-related charges for reportedly living and working illegally in Thailand, are pictured apparently combining tap water from a hosepipe, orange juice concentrate, food colouring and artificial sweetener to make what is then sold as 100% fresh orange juice. They prepare the mixture on the grass in their garden in what appears to be a large plastic bowl intended for chores such as dishwashing and cleaning clothes.

Khaosod reports that the couple told officials that they sold as many as 50 bottles per day, for 20 baht per bottle, using the method that they said they adopted from a restaurant in Ayutthaya. Police have charged the duo with the unlicensed sale of food in a sealed container, which carries a punishment of a fine of up to 20,000 baht – but officers investigating the case have apparently not ruled out further charges if the ingredients in the ‘orange juice’ are found to endangered public health.

Other ingredients aside, tap water is now widely considered safe to drink in Bangkok – though purified water is still consumed by the vast majority of the population – while in upcountry areas, including Saraburi province where the pair’s underground manufacturing process took place, official advice still generally remains to avoid consuming tap water.

Orange juice similar in appearance to that produced by the couple is commonly sold by mobile vendors in the streets of Bangkok and around Thailand, alongside other fruit juices and drinks, and the incident has raised concerns about the potential for the practice to be more widespread than is currently known.

Another pair of Vietnamese nationals were apparently arrested the same day, also in Saraburi province, for preparing fake ‘orange juice’ in a similar manner. And following the incidents, authorities announced a nationwide crackdown that has so far seen the inspection and laboratory testing of orange juice samples, as well as the arrest of numerous other migrant workers suspected of engaging in the practice.

Numerous social media reports and videos have since described consumers’ experiences of apparently dodgy juice production. And netizens have pointed out that the displays of fresh oranges common on many street juice carts now appear to be intended to disguise the fact that some vendors discretely refill small bottles for sale from a separate larger supply of ‘juice’, rather than squeezing it freshly from the fruit on show.

Travel blogger Richard Barrow tweeted that he had ‘seen [vendors] adding green food colouring to lime juice’. He warned consumers to only buy juices from known and trusted vendors, adding that the problem was not limited to juice and that ‘some vendors dip fruit in syrup to make it sweeter or in food colouring to make it brighter’.

But according to Khaosod, a xenophobic side to the development of the scandal has seen it apparently fuelled by concerns that the improper juice manufacturing is primarily being undertaken by non-Thais. The news site quotes the Ministry of Interior Affairs’ legal department head Sakchai Tanghor as claiming that a raid in Bangkok’s Chinatown neighbourhood of Yaowarat on Tuesday – which targeted foreign vendors – was in response to complaints from local residents that migrant workers were selling the juice in the area, which apparently led to concerns about the genuine nature of the product.

In a related development, authorities launched tests on sashimi on sale at Japanese restaurants in Thailand after a Chulalongkorn University veterinarian claimed that laboratory tests showed artificial colouring in apparently old sashimi she had purchased. However, a biologist from the same university later insisted that the discolouration of Nantarika Chansue’s sashimi while submerged in water was in fact caused by the release not of artificial colouring but of the myoglobin protein.

By Chris Wotton. Photo by nist6dh.

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