Rice noodles are an essential component of many Asian soups. • Photo by Popo le Chien
Rice noodles are an essential component of many Asian soups. • Photo by Popo le Chien

Washington state voted to keep rice noodles fresh and rice cakes edible longer by passing a bill on March 1 that addresses the concerns of a local rice-noodle manufacturer.

Tteok, a Korean cake made with rice flour, is a popular item at stores like Uwajimaja and H Mart. • Photo by hellaOAKLAND from Flickr
Tteok, a Korean cake made with rice flour, is a popular item at stores like Uwajimaja and H Mart. • Photo by hellaOAKLAND from Flickr

The State Board of Health’s safety regulations for rice noodles and Korean rice cakes were found to be scientifically unjustified by 49 state senators and 96 representatives, who advanced the motion to set different time temperature standards for their storage and consumption.

“This bill recognizes that Asian rice-based noodles and Korean rice cakes are currently regulated under the same safety standards as wheat-based products containing animal by-products and asks that the State Board of Health take into account scientific data when determining time-temperature safety standards for these products,” said Sen. Bob Hasegawa, D-Seattle, a primary sponsor of the bill.

The Washington Board of Health follows the Washington State Retail Food Code, Chapter 246-215 WAC, which sets guidelines that address the safety and protection of food products in retail and in food service. These guidelines influence package instructions for retail products, as well as storage and preparation procedures in the food industry.

The Food Code’s Time Temperature Control for Safety Food section dictates that rice noodles should not be stored at temperatures between 41 and 135 degrees for more than four hours. They also specify a similarly strict timeline in regards to Korean rice cakes.

These guidelines violate a couple thousand years of Chinese tradition and the practices of local rice noodle manufacturers like Timothy Louie, who keeps noodles at room temperature during transport and before preparation.

Hasegawa said Louie, the owner of a fortune cookie factory in Seattle, incurred fines because of the safety standards “unnecessarily applied when scientific data proved no additional health risk.”

Louie is president of Tsue Chong Noodle, and was the driving force behind the introduction of the bill back in January after he was cited for a violation of the Food Code’s guidelines. This prompted him to seek out the support of Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos and Hasegawa.

Senate Bill 6398 and the companion House Bill 2744 defined Asian rice noodles as a rice-based pasta composed of rice, water, wheat starch, oil and certain preservatives that must be cooked by steaming at 135 degrees for at least four minutes.

The bill noted that Asian rice noodles and Korean rice cakes have ingredients in their consistency that act as natural preservatives and keep them suitable for consumption when stored at room temperature.
“This is going to allow me to continue my cultural tradition,” Louie said soon after receiving a victorious call from Santos.

Hasegawa sees the outcome of this piece of legislation as an incentive for economic and cultural growth within the state. Supporting Louie’s effort served as a sort of investment and recognition of Tsue Chong Noodles and other businesses like it.

“This entrepreneurial business owner has provided the district and the state with a great product, jobs, and encourages economic growth,” Hasegawa said. “By applying food safety standards based on scientific data, this business and others like it will continue to support economic growth in our state and provide a product that promotes the cultural diversity of our state.”

After being passed by the Senate on Feb. 10 and by the House on March 1, Senate Bill 6398 is now on the desk of Gov. Jay Inslee, waiting to be signed into law.

This was Louie’s first experience requesting help from state legislators. He said the outcome has ignited a great deal of hope in the system.

“I feel like our legislative system truly works.”

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