Festive glutinous rice cakes and caramel cakes topped with gold foil, plum wine added with gold flakes and gold-themed feasts… There has been a gastronomic trend towards extravagant meals in the food and beverage market over recent years. Gold flakes and gold dust are often added to food, and flowers are used as decoration items in food plating to make the dishes more visually appealing and give it a touch of resplendence. This helps to increase the attractiveness of dishes and allows them to be priced higher. Nevertheless, is it safe to eat food added with gold foil and food items using flowers as an ingredient or decoration?
Is gold foil good for health?
From a nutritional point of view, gold is not a mineral and trace element required by the human body. It has no nutritional value for humans nor can it be absorbed by the body. In case of consumption of a very small amount of gold foil, it usually does not accumulate in the body but is directly discharged from the body via the gastrointestinal tract. However, consumption of gold-containing food over extended time periods or in large quantities may cause the gold to accumulate in the body and lead to chronic poisoning, resulting in damages to the human organs and functions.[i]
How does the law regulate it?
In accordance with Administrative Regulation no. 30/2017 “Standards for Use of Food Colourings in Food” enforced in Macao, metals (aluminium, silver and gold) can only be applied in food in the form of foil or powder for the purpose of external colouration or decoration. They must be edible and should be used at the lowest level needed to fulfil the process requirements to ensure the consumption safety of consumers. [ii]
Are the flowers used for food decoration edible?
In addition to gold foil, flowers are often used as food decoration and garnishment. Yet, not all kinds of flowers are edible, especially ornamental flowers. Pesticides may be applied to ornamental flowers during their cultivation or before they are marketed to prolong their flowering period or increase their ornamental value, which can lead to pesticide residues in the flowers. Inadvertent consumption of these pesticide residue-containing flowers may cause acute or chronic adverse effects on human health. In this respect, the food and beverage industry must be cautious in the selection of flowers used for food decoration and garnishment and make sure that the flowers come from reliable sources and are edible.
What should be noted in regard to food plating and decoration?
Since flowers are cultivated plants, there are chances that they may have been smeared with soil or harmful microorganisms. So, it’s important to handle the flowers with care and wash them thoroughly prior to use. During food plating or decoration, avoid allowing flowers to come into direct contact with food to minimise the food safety risk as much as possible.
Reminders to consumers:
Lastly, consumers are reminded to patronise reputable food establishments and food vendors when dining out or shopping for food ingredients. They have to buy and consume more fresh food, and eat a diverse diet to reduce the risk of accumulation of a single chemical substance in the body and maintain health.
[i] “Newsletter on Food Safety and Quality” (quarterly publication) of Health Bureau of Macao SAR in 2008