13 containers of imported coconut oil under laboratory investigation for toxic substances

Coconut oil

Amidst allegations that consignments of contaminated coconut oil imported to the country have been cleared for release to the market by the Sri Lanka Standards Institution (SLSI), the head of the premier body dismissed the claims as “unfounded”, saying that samples of the 13 containers are still under testing for any harmful substances.

“The laboratory investigation is continuing and it will take another two days for the process to be completed”, said Dr. Nushad Perera, SLSI’s Chairman.

Referring to reports that SLSI officials had authorized the sale of 183,055 kilograms of coconut oil brought down to the country by four importers, he said these claims were far from the truth as the stocks have been sealed by the Customs until the sample testing is done.

Neither the SLSI nor the Customs or the Health Ministry Food Control Unit has given the green light for the consignments to be sold to consumers, Perera stressed.

The 13 containers were imported by four different suppliers, Ali Brothers (Pvt) Limited, Sena Mills Refineries, Edirisinghe Edible Oils and Katana Refineries, the SLSI said in a statement.

“They are longstanding importers of coconut oil”, it said.

The containers were detained by the Customs on suspicion that the stocks contained aflatoxins, a family of toxins produced by certain fungi found on agricultural crops. The main fungi that produce aflatoxins are Aspergillus flavus and Aspergillus parasiticus, which are abundant in warm and humid regions of the world.

In case any toxic substances are found, the Health Ministry will instruct the Customs to re-export the consignments, the SLSI chief said. “Otherwise, they will be allowed to be sold in the market”.

Both the Customs and the Consumer Affairs Authority (CAA) have confirmed that the 13 containers are still being held in warehouses until the outcome of the laboratory tests.

In the midst of allegations of contaminated coconut oil, industry sources claimed that the adulteration of the commodity happens in a big way in the marketplace.

Despite the big talk about raids by the CAA, it is common knowledge that coconut oil is adulterated with cheaper palm oil and sold to consumers at anything between Rs. 340-370 per 750ml bottle, the sources said.

Adulteration of the commodity is so common that it’s easier to find a needle in a haystack than pure coconut oil in the marketplace, they said.

All the noise about random checks by the CAA is absolute bunkum as those in the industry know that even rancid oil from wayside eating houses are collected, bleached and resold, they asserted.

“It is no secret that adulterated and rancid coconut oil can lead to serious health hazards as it contains carcinogenic free radicals, but does anybody in authority care?”, the sources queried.

The demand for coconut oil generally spikes during the Sinhala and Tamil New Year season as it is used for the preparation of traditional sweetmeats.

(Source: The Island – By Suresh Perera)