Harmful Chemicals and Disposable Chopsticks

While disposable chopsticks present an overwhelming burden on the environment, they also embody a potent health risk: latent, potentially harmful chemical preservatives.

Though many chopstick manufacturers, namely in the US, have adhered to regulations which discourage such dangers, Chinese chopstick production is entirely different. Seeing as China produces the majority of the entire worlds disposable chopsticks, this threat is not isolated to China alone. 

In an interview with the Chinese newspaper China Daily, Dong Jinshi, secretary-general of the International Food Packaging Association, went on record regarding the chemicals used during chopstick production in China. 

“Sulphur, hydrogen peroxide, sodium sulfite and mold inhibitor, are chemical substances commonly used to make disposable chopsticks, even though they are not allowed”

Since these chemicals are regulated by the government, there are limitations as to their application. 

“For example, the standard says food-grade sulphur can be used in the production of bamboo chopsticks, while the sulfur dioxide residue should be controlled under 600 milligrams in one kilogram of chopsticks. But sulphur is not supposed to be used for wooden chopsticks," Dong said.

However, this regulation has never been carried out or enforced. And since wooden chopsticks make up the majority of chopsticks produced in and out of China, that means innumerable chopsticks could be contaminated by sulfur dioxide or other potentially harmful chemicals. 

"There is not even a specific government department in charge of the quality control," Dong added. 

In the end, lack of solidified standards for manufacturing in China allows for small workshops to thrive, avoiding production licenses and skirting around regulations. 

So how do we avoid ingesting these chemicals while using chopsticks? What is the solution?

First, let’s look a little closer at the main culprit of fear and apprehension: sulfur dioxide.

Sulfur dioxide (SO2) is a colorless, water-soluble chemical used for bleaching and preserving foods, fruits, and vegetables. Though it is relatively harmless in comparison with other potential preservatives, it does present serious health risks. By and large, sulfur dioxide can cause both asthmatic attacks in asthmatics and rashes and abdominal upset in those sensitive to this additive.

While the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, or FDA, does restrict sulfites, such as sulfur dioxide, in fresh foods to ten parts per million (ppm), it does not put in a place a limit on how much may can exist in canned, dried, or preserved foods, instead requiring those products to bear a sulfite label declaration. This same classification is held for disposable chopsticks. The FDA has linked sulfites to the onset of asthma attacks, skin rashes, and abdominal upset. 

By estimates put out by the FDA, one out of a hundred people (1% of the population) is sulfite-sensitive. Additionally, five percent of those who have asthma are at risk of sulfites triggering a breathing problem for them.

Even if these numbers are comparatively low next to other health risks, they still are cause for concern. And while sulfites are a known additive in disposable chopsticks, there are plenty of other potential additive chemicals that we do not know about.

So what do we do about all this? Can we still use disposable chopsticks in a safe manner?
The answer is yes. 

In reference to dried-daylily, a similarly processed good insofar as it uses sulfur dioxide as a preservative, China’s Department of Health claims that 70% of the sulfur dioxide used as a preservative can be eliminated by soaking the foodstuff in cold water for 60 minutes, or in warm water for 20 minutes. By soaking chopsticks through either method, or boiling them outright, a majority of potential sulfites contained within the disposable chopsticks can be released, preventing it from making its way into food. 

Regardless of this option, the majority of people use disposable chopsticks in an environment where this method is infeasible. Disposable chopsticks are generally used on the go: in restaurants and take-out establishments. This is why a smart, portable alternative is necessary.

Not only do TWINZ Chopsticks cut down on excess environmental waste, they also provide a clean, sanitary eating experiences with no surprises whatsoever. Through choosing safer options such as those offered by TWINZ, unnecessary worry can be eliminated. 

Pavin Browne