Given the wide variety of ingredients used in traditional and snowskin mooncakes, hazards such as mycotoxins, non-permitted colouring agents, chemical preservatives and microbiological pathogens may be introduced if the mooncakes are not manufactured and/or stored properly.
Mycotoxins are heat resistant toxic chemicals that may affect the liver, kidney or immune system. The natural toxin can be produced by certain types of mould, which can grow at various points along the food production chain, particularly under warm and humid conditions. As mould commonly affect food such as grain-based food (e.g. flour) which are used in mooncakes, mycotoxins may be present if the food is contaminated with mould.
Non-permitted colouring agents
Colouring agents may be added to salted duck egg yolks in traditional mooncakes to make them look more appealing. However, not all colouring agents are permitted as some such as Sudan dyes can damage the liver and digestive system if consumed.
To extend the shelf-life, chemical preservatives such as sorbic acid have also been used in the making of mooncakes. Sorbic acid can potentially lead to allergic reactions if they are present at high levels in food and consumed.
As the making of mooncakes usually involves the handling of ingredients with bare hands, foodborne pathogens can be introduced during the production process when cross-contamination occurs, particularly when good hand hygiene is not practiced (link to article on hand hygiene). Some pathogenic strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) such as E. coli O157 produce Shiga toxins which can cause food poisoning symptoms such as stomach cramps, diarrhoea or vomiting after consumption of the affected food.
As traditional mooncakes are baked, the high temperature can kill most of the pathogens. Snowskin mooncakes, however, are not subjected to any heat treatment and are usually kept cold after preparation. Pathogens, including E. coli, can thus multiply rapidly if mooncakes are not kept cold (below 5 ºC) after preparation or purchase.
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