Consumer Council finds excessive sodium levels in all instant noodles, Kung Tak Lam highest, 90% of samples contain potential carcinogens

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15th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Instant noodles have long been a go-to choice for those seeking a quick and satisfying meal. With their convenience and a wide range of flavours, they have become a popular comfort food and late-night snack. However, a recent study conducted by the Consumer Council has raised concerns about the nutritional content of these prepackaged meals.

The Consumer Council tested 19 samples of prepackaged instant noodles, including both fried and non-fried varieties, sourced from various retail outlets. The samples were analysed for nutrient content, food safety, and overall quality. The results were alarming, revealing high levels of sodium, saturated fat, and potentially carcinogenic contaminants in these products.

One of the most concerning findings of the study was the high sodium content in all the tested samples. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults consume less than 2,000mg of sodium per day, with a limit of approximately 667mg per meal. However, the sodium content in one serving of instant noodles, including noodles and soup/sauce, exceeded this recommended limit in all samples. Nine of the samples even surpassed the recommended daily intake limit for adults, with the highest sample containing 2,477mg of sodium, nearly 23.9% over the daily limit suggested by WHO. Even seemingly healthier non-fried noodle samples were found to be high in sodium.

Among them, 9 samples exceeded the World Health Organisation’s recommended daily sodium intake limit of less than 2,000 milligrams for just one serving. Among them, “Kung Tak Lam” instant noodles had a sodium content of 2,477 milligrams, exceeding the limit by nearly 23.9%. These 9 samples were already considered high in sodium, including all 5 non-fried instant noodles. Among the noodles, “Yum Yum Tom Yam noodles” had the highest sodium content, with 1,300 milligrams per 100 grams.

In addition to sodium, the study highlighted the concerning levels of total fat and saturated fat in these instant noodle products. Surprisingly, it was found that a non-fried noodle sample had the highest total fat (34.1g) and saturated fat (22.4g) content among all the samples tested. While the dried noodles themselves had low-fat content, the seasonings and toppings added significant amounts of fat, making them the main source of fat in the non-fried noodle sample. Consuming just one serving of this sample would exceed the recommended maximum limits of fat intake for adults per meal, indicating the need for caution when consuming the accompanying soup. Furthermore, eight fried noodle samples had saturated fat content that exceeded the recommended intake limit for adults per meal.

The study also revealed the presence of potentially carcinogenic contaminants in nearly 90% of the samples tested. Three samples were found to contain contaminant levels higher than the European Union (EU) limits for relevant vegetable oils. It is important to note that normal consumption of these seasonings does not pose significant risks to adult health. However, the Consumer Council urges manufacturers to prioritize product safety and consumer health by using ingredients with fewer contaminants.

Consumers concerned about their health should pay attention to the sodium, fat, and saturated fat content of instant noodles. It is advisable to reduce the consumption of seasonings and toppings, particularly in lo mein or stir noodles, as they tend to have higher fat content. The Consumer Council calls upon manufacturers to prioritize the use of ingredients with fewer contaminants and improve the safety of these popular convenience foods. By making informed choices and advocating for safer products, consumers can safeguard their health and well-being.

The presence of possible carcinogens 3-MCPD and glycidol in the tested samples is a cause for concern. The high heat and use of refined fats and oils in the production of fried instant noodles and seasonings can lead to the formation of 3-MCPDE and the release of 3-MCPD in the human body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified 3-MCPD as “possibly carcinogenic to humans.” Similarly, glycidyl fatty acid esters (GE) can break down into genotoxic and carcinogenic glycidol during digestion. IARC classifies glycidol as “probably carcinogenic to humans.” Currently, there are no specific limits set for the levels of 3-MCPD and glycidol in instant noodles and their seasonings in Hong Kong and the EU.

The study found that detected levels of 3-MCPD ranged from 11μg to 54μg in fried noodle samples and from “not detected” to 37μg in non-fried samples per sample unit. For glycidol, levels ranged from 7μg to 96μg in fried noodle samples and from “not detected” to 33μg in non-fried samples per serving size. Only two non-fried samples were completely free of both 3-MCPD and glycidol. While the intake of contaminants from each sample may not be high due to smaller serving sizes, certain seasoning samples had significantly high levels of contaminants, with detected levels exceeding EU limits for palm oil and vegetable oils.

The Consumer Council urges the industry to improve the quality control of raw materials and the production process of instant noodles to reduce levels of 3-MCPD, its fatty acid esters, and glycidol. This will help enhance product safety and protect consumer health.

Although there is currently no scientific research suggesting that instant noodle consumption increases the risk of cancer in humans, the high sodium and fat content in these products is well-established. To reduce sodium intake, consumers are advised not to use all the accompanying seasonings and to avoid consuming the soup. Adding fresh and nutrient-rich foods such as vegetables, eggs, chicken, and seafood can help reduce fat and sodium intake. Replacing the cooking water with fresh hot water can also slightly reduce fat and sodium intake. Individuals who need to control their body weight or who are at risk of or suffering from chronic diseases should avoid consuming instant noodles regularly. It is recommended to choose healthier non-fried noodle options, such as rice vermicelli, mung bean vermicelli, macaroni, and buckwheat noodles, and incorporate fresh and nutrient-rich ingredients for a balanced diet and nutrient intake.

Instant noodle samples tested by Consumer Council