BANGKOK — Take home a steaming bag of congee for dinner, complete with pork, a soft boiled egg, zesty ginger strips and spring onions, with a dash of soy sauce – and permanent marker ink?
After viral photos of marker ink adding some unwanted flavor to a bag of congee made its rounds on the Thai internet, a public health official confirmed on Wednesday that this is a common problem caused by vendors using cheap, substandard plastic bags – which happens more often than you may think.
“This is definitely possible when the food bags are not food grade, causing chemicals to seep through due to the food’s heat,” Department of Health deputy director Danai Teewunda told Khaosod English. “If this happens,that means the food bags used by this vendor are not up to grade.”
The congee panic was ignited when Facebook user Wirintorn Diloktharadol posted photos showing that the fuschia marker that labelled her congee had seeped into her food on Sunday. The post has been liked more than 2,800 times and shared more than 1,800 times since.
Although she declined an interview, Wirintorn wrote that she wanted what happened to her to be a warning to others.
Danai said proper hot food grade bags are inflexible and clear rather than opaque, and their production process allows them to withstand high levels of heat, with some higher-grade ones even withstanding up to 120C.
The worst kind to use for holding food are flimsy, soft plastic bags used by many vendors in markets.
“We see this often especially for gluay kaek fried banana and patong go fried dough vendors, who will just line the plastic bag with a piece of foam or tissue first. This really should not be done,” Danai said.
Harsh permanent marker chemicals can seep through non-food grade bags – but even if using food grade, Danai recommended vendors label bags by writing on paper stickers, and sticking them on the bag after the ink has dried.
“There may be a higher price, but it will help boost the reputation of the vendor,” Danai said.
Don’t worry too much if you ate just a bit of marker-flavored food, however. Dangers of consuming marker chemicals usually only lead to irritations in the digestive system, Danai said. But do seek medical attention if symptoms are severe.
“Throw the food away if it’s a liquid that the marker has seeped into. However, if there’s only a small stain on dried food, you can just throw that part away,” Danai said.
Article 29/2 in the Consumer Protection Act states that products for sale in the market must be safe. Refusal to comply is punishable by one year in jail and a 200,000 baht fine.
Experts have since weighed in with their own knowledge and experiments, such as Textile Phys and Chem page who echoed the sentiment to not write on hot food bags.
Scientist Parkpoom Dejhutsadin of “Mhor Lab Panda” page conducted an experiment where he wrote on a hot bag of noodles and congee, but did not see any leaking. He said he would repeat the experiments with different types of bags and advised the public to err on the side of caution.
“Many science Facebook pages have come out to say that chemical colors can leak through plastic, so please still don’t write on food bags with markers,” Parkpoom wrote.