A follow-up survey of soy sauce carried out by the UK Food Standards Agency (FSA) has shown a significant improvement since the agency's previous survey in 2001.
The FSA, looking at the levels of the chemicals 3-MCPD and 1,3-DCP in soy sauce on sale in shops, found that only 6 per cent of the samples taken contained unacceptable levels of 3-MCPD compared with nearly a quarter of the samples tested in 2001.
Steve Wearne, head of Chemical Contaminants at the Food Standards Agency, said: "This survey was carried out by the Food Standards Agency to see if companies had taken action since we found high levels of 3-MCPD and 1,3-DCP in a significant number of soy sauce products last year. We are pleased that this survey shows that significant progress has been made.
"The results show how important it is that we do these surveys and how they can be a spur to action by manufacturers.
"There is no immediate risk from 3-MCPD and most people are not affected. You have to eat soy sauce with high levels of 3-MCPD regularly over many years for there to be a health risk, which is why this is an issue for the Chinese and South East Asian community in particular. It is reassuring for these communities that the situation has improved."
3-MCPD, a chemical formed at low levels in a variety of foods and food ingredients as a result of processing, can cause cancer in laboratory animals when it is fed to them in large amounts over a lifetime. It is possible that it may have the same effect on people who eat foods containing high levels of it in most of their meals over their lifetime.
1,3-DCP, a derivative of 3-MCPD, is thought to cause cancer in laboratory animals by damaging genes. Scientists warn, although it is not certain, that it could have the same effect on people. The advise, therefore, that it should not be present in food at any level.
The survey tested 99 different types of soy sauce sold in a variety of retail stores across the UK. Of the six unacceptable samples, four had levels between one and seven times the legal limit. One showed levels 108 times the legal limit, while the sixth had levels almost 2000 times greater. This sixth sample also contained low levels of 1,3-DCP.
Full findings can be found on the FSA website.