Mon, 21 Jul 2003

Beware of contaminated and expired drinks

Debbie A. Lubis, Contributor, Jakarta

Standing on an economy class train from Bandung to Surabaya for five and a half hours and driving a car for another 20 hours did not make Sony Samdani, 40, feel sleepy nor lose his concentration. He remained alert behind the steering wheel although he had not slept for 26 hours!

"I just rely on this magical formula. It keeps my eyes bright and boosts my stamina. I do not feel aches all over my body," he said, showing three bottles of energy drink that he had just consumed. Sonny has relied on energy drinks to help him in his job as a driver for a rental car company since the early 1990s.

With the tremendous surge of energy they can give, energy drinks have become more and more popular among men and women. Many energy drinks can be found easily, even in small food kiosks or gas stations.

"All my colleagues like to drink it but from the various brands in the market, I only like two brands since they don't taste too sour. Besides, they are relatively affordable," Sonny said. One bottle cost around Rp 3,500.

He added that he never consumes more than three bottles a day since most of his colleagues complained of weakness in the legs after consuming energy drinks excessively.

Ruslan Aspan, deputy for the control on traditional medicine, cosmetics, and complementary products at the Food and Drug Monitoring Agency (BPOM), said that consumers should check whether the products were registered with BPOM.

Beverages in cartons and energy drinks must have a registration number from BPOM on their label. Consumers should read and study the composition, the side effects and the warnings on the label and brochures or other information that is usually attached to the packet.

In 2001, BPOM withdrew three brands of energy drinks because their caffeine level had exceeded the permitted level.

"Customers should comply with the suggested consumption, and not consume products that are past the expiry date. They should also not be too easily lured by energy drink commercials that exaggerate the benefits of their products," he said.

BPOM routinely takes samples of carton drinks and energy drinks and examines them at its laboratory and its 26 branches in provincial capital cities. As of last year, it had examined 169 samples of energy drinks and all of them met the standard health requirements.

M. Ma'roef, director of food inspection and certification at BPOM, said that it was the obligation of the government, consumers, and producers to monitor the quality of carton drinks and energy drinks.

He said that the composition, registration number, expiry date, warnings and instructions on the usage and storage of the products were important to note.

"Consumers should pay attention to the physical condition of the packaging whether it is damaged, bloated, leaking, rusty, and it is advisable not to buy products that do not have clear identification," he said.

The government has formulated some regulations to protect the public from food products, including the carton drinks and energy drinks that are unregistered, contaminated, past the expiry date and poisonous.

All soft drink or energy drinks, either locally produced or imported must be registered with BPOM and meet the standard requirements and health standards before they are released on the market. The products should have a certificate from an accredited laboratory, a health certificate or certificate of free sale from the country of origin.

The products are examined based on aspects of safety, quality and efficacy like source of water, raw materials, additional substances, primary packaging (that is in direct contact with the product) and secondary packaging, level of metal/microbes, manufacturing process, including production facilities.

The products will be given a registration number if they meet all the standards. The institution also gives certification on the production and distribution facilities. BPOM inspects the production and distribution facilities, and confirms that they are in compliance with existing rulings, including compliance with good manufacturing processes.

BPOM then investigates and enforces the law and issues warnings to the public. It also monitors side effects or unwanted effects that the beverages and energy drinks can bring, does pre audit and post audit on the products commercials and promotion.

Ma'roef said that BPOM will impose administrative as well as legal sanctions on producers, importers, or distributors if their products are proven to be below standards.

"The products that do not meet the requirements will be withdrawn from the market and destroyed. If the producer or distributor does not remedy the problem, then the registration number will be withdrawn or the production suspended temporarily. We also take legal action against producers who still distribute expired products," he said.

For producers who do not put the expiry date on their product label, BPOM will take gradual measures, beginning with a warning letter, then withdrawing the products from the market, and finally revoking the registration number.

"The expired products found in the market are destroyed. In addition, sellers can also be taken to court," Ma'roef said.

The Indonesian Consumer Foundation (YLKI) said that BPOM had sent a distributor of expired packed beverages in Yogyakarta to prison for three months and hundreds of contaminated beverages in Surabaya were withdrawn from the market.

"Those measures can be taken because of consumers' complaints. Although the cases reported are still low, they reflect the huge actual incidence in the field. Consumers have the right to get correct information about the product and also to sue if they consume products that have endangered their health," said Sularsi of YLKI's consumer complaint division.

Most of the complaints received by YLKI are related to contaminated and expired packaged beverages.