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Health officials warn against eating deep-fried toothpicks after viral social media trend

Health officials are urging people to stop eating deep-fried toothpicks, after the rise of a viral social media trend.

South Korea’s Ministry of Food and Drug Safety (MFDS) took to X, formerly known as Twitter, to advise against eating the product. The statement came after people went viral for sharing videos of themselves deep-frying and seasoning the starch toothpicks in a pan before consuming them.

However, according to the MFDS, the toothpicks are not meant for people to be eating and are unsafe to consume.

“Starch toothpicks are a hygiene product!” the MFDS wrote on X in Korean, which has been translated to English via Google Translate. “The safety of sanitary products is managed according to standards and specifications for ingredients, manufacturing methods, and uses, but their safety as food has not been verified. Do not consume.”

In one of the viral TikTok videos, a woman based in Korea could be seen putting a bunch of the green toothpicks in a tray. She then soaked the toothpicks in water and added them to a cooking pan, where the products went on to fry – resembling the shape of a curly fry. The video ended with her eating a bowl of those starch toothpicks.

One YouTube creator also gave the deep-fried toothpick trend a try in 2018, as she said that it tasted similar to “fried rice cakes”.

There have also been other ways to go about cooking the toothpicks. In another viral video, shared by Reuters, the fried products were mixed with a seasoning, which appeared to be a spicy powder or cheese powder.

However, unlike toothpicks in the US, the green ones in South Korea are not made out of wood. According to Reuters, food colouring is used to make the green of the toothpicks, which are made out of sweet potato and corn starch. Because of that, the toothpicks are biodegradable and dissolve in water. In addition, the toothpicks are used in restaurants for customers to pick up food when eating.

The eating of fried toothpicks is also a part of a larger social media trend: “mukbangs” videos. In “mukbangs,” which are also known as eating shows, people film themselves consuming large quantities of food. The trend spread on social media sites in the US and China.

According to Global Times, China has outlawed “mukbangs”.

In 2020, the legislation of China’s government announced its plans to criminalise media content that promotes binge eating or food wastage under which influencers can be fined of up to 100,000 yuan ($14,000) and have their business operations suspended if they violate the law.