Most of these products, which came in sachets, claimed to contain a high percentage of expensive raw materials, such as red ginseng, velvet antler, and cheonma (Gastrodia elata) – a herb used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat headache and dizziness, when only trace amounts were present.
A total of 12 companies were caught violating the Display and Advertisement Act during MFDS’ inspection held between February 7 and 24.
The situation of fake product marketing had worsened after COVID-19 social distancing regulations were lifted and domestic spring tourism had resumed, the MFDS said.
“This inspection was conducted to prevent consumer damage, as there have been cases of companies selling illegal liquid tea at high prices under the guise of healthy products to the elderly at food company publicity centres after social distancing was lifted.
“The subject of inspection were 24 companies that manufacture liquid tea using raw materials such as Gastrodia elata, velvet antler, wild ginseng, and red ginseng, which are known to be expensive and preferred by the elderly,” the MFDS said.
For example, one of the products has the term “Cheonma extract 94 per cent” on the main display, when only a trace amount at 0.07 per cent was stated in the ingredient list.
Some products did not indicate the actual amount of raw material used.
Nine food manufacturing and processing companies were caught as a result, including Cosmax Bio.
The regulator cautioned that it would be necessary to check the actual content of the raw materials, such as the solid content and blended content on the ingredient list.
Other problems detected include the misuse of the Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) logo to pass off general foods as health functional foods.
In South Korea, health functional foods manufacturers are required to adhere to the GMP standard since December 2020.
Other problems found during the inspection include food manufacturing companies storing raw material concentrates that have passed the date of expiry.
Three companies were caught for violating the above.
On the other hand, these products were sold to the elderly via the distributors at KRW$360k (US$276) per box when the actual price was between KRW$4k and KRW$21k (US$3-$16).
The MFDS has advised the public to report cases of products violating the laws using the food safety mobile application My Handan (安).
It added that it has taken measures to correct labelling of these products and would continue to crackdown on illegal food activities.