There are times when God cannot save the reputation of an infamous conglomerate.

Want Want Group, a food manufacturer in Taiwan, donated 2 million bottles of liquid disinfectants to local governments to help tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. Several residents in Hsinchu have reportedly consumed the disinfectant believing it to be drinking water, because its packaging is almost identical to bottled water, Hsinchu County councilor Yu Hsiao-ching said at a press conference yesterday.

The Want Want liquid disinfectant product, named “Water God,” contains hypochlorous acid (HOCI) as its active ingredient. HOCI is a type of chlorine compound widely used to treat drinking water, sanitize food products, swimming pools, and environmental surfaces. Want Want representatives, however, claimed that the disinfectant would not cause any harm to the human body even if consumed by mistake.

HOCI is safe for washing produce before further processing according to Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration. However, the FDA guideline warns that HOCI is not a food additive and any leftover chemical on the food surface could cause food poisoning.

“If this product is used for virus prevention, it should not be made in the appearance of a beverage,” Yu said.

水神 旺旺

Photo Credit: Hsinchu County Government

The packaging of "Water God" disinfectant looks almost identical to regular bottled water.

“Water God” should be categorized as an environmental drug, Democratic Progressive Party legislator Wu Yu-chin told reporters at the press conference. However, the 10 ppm concentration of HOCI in the product is too low to be regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency. Since this is an environmental cleaning product instead of a food product, the FDA also lacks the authority to regulate its packaging, Wu suggested.

The press conference took a dramatic turn when a Want Want representative stood up and rejected the claims that “Water God” may be dangerous for human consumption.

“We just want to tell everyone that even if you had consumed it by accident, it would not be harmful,” the Want Want representative said and directly took a sip from a "Water God" bottle.

Tsai Eng-meng, the chairman of Want Want Group, defended the safety of the product in a charity press conference last week claiming that he even uses "Water God" to brush his teeth. To demonstrate that "Water God" is harmless, Tsai gulped down the product on the spot.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Health and Welfare has advised against using HOCI on the human body as it is designed for environmental cleaning. The Health Ministry also stated that HOCI’s stability is highly susceptible to sunlight and temperature changes. Unlike the regular “Water God” bottles in retail, the ones donated by Want Want are packaged in transparent plastic, which means their effectiveness may be compromised.

The Yunlin County Council, which has received over 350,000 bottles of “Water God,” has put warning labels that read “Don’t Drink” on the bottles as a precautionary measure.

Water God has not responded to request for comments at the time of publication.

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TNL Editor: Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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