Who touched my food? (2)

Artificial pigs feet, dyed peppers and more alarming stories feature in the second instalment of our fortnightly food safety news summary – “Who touched my food?” –  a feature dedicated to tracking food-safety issues and pushing for an end to underhand methods in the food sector.

May 2, Chongqing Evening News: Chongqing’s Le Fu Market was selling expired sesame candy; the production date on the label attached by the supermarket did not match the one on the original packaging.

May 3, Shanghai Evening Post: 80,000 tubs of popcorn were sealed up in Shanghai, having been found to contain higher than legal levels of fluorescers.

May 3, Hualong Net: Chongqing’s Ministry of Industry and Commerce tracked down an illegal factory using industrial caustic soda to soak cows’ stomachs. Foodstuffs processed in this way can very easily cause illnesses of the stomach and digestive tract, including cancers.

May 4, Chonqing Times: Artificial pigs’ feet appeared in Chongqing, bound up with pigskin and cotton thread, and containing additives such as hydrogen peroxide, nitrites and the dye sunset yellow. Testing revealed that nitrite levels in them were dangerously above the legal limit.

May 8, China News Network: Chongqing authorities discovered almost one thousand live chickens which had been force fed with mineral powder to increase their weight. Testing showed that the main ingredient was baritite, also known as barite powder, and that every kilogram of chicken meat contained 110 milligrams of magnesium and 1.1 milligram of barium. The negative health effects of human consumption remain unclear.

May 11, China News Network: Chongqing authorities discovered a batch of dyed beans. The owner of the factory had no production permit, and had not had his facilities inspected for food safety. In order to make the beans’ colour brighter and glossier, he had added pigments such as carmine and sunset yellow.

May 14, Beijing Morning News: Beijing citizens reported a trader to the authorities for selling chicken meat soaked in caustic soda. The illegal trader explained that this bleaches impurities and dirt on the surface of the wings, with the added effect of making the meat heavier. According to the inspection department, caustic soda is not listed as a banned food additive.

May 16, Guangzhou Daily: Authorities in Shaoguan, Guangdong investigated a factory adding sodium formaldehyde sulfoxylate, sodium borate and other substances to their "poisoned beancurd rolls". Sodium formaledhyde sulfoxylate is a strong carcinogen, while sodium borate is a toxic industrial chemical; both are absolutely prohibited for use in food processing by Chinese law.

May 16, Chutian Metropolis News: On a secret inspection visit, a Wuhan people’s representative discovered jars of chou doufu wriggling with maggots in an underground illegal factory. Caramel colouring had been used illegally during production of the dried tofu.

May 16, Beijing News: Following citizens’ reports, an inspection of the Sun Palace Crossing Convenience Store in Beijing’s Chaoyang district rooted out dyed wild peppers. The peppers were immersed in water, and the water reddened. At present, the chemical composition of the dye has not been determined, but many small retailers suggest that the colouring agent may be rhodamine B or carmine. 

Editor’s comments: The continuous exposure of food problems provides food for thought regarding the regulatory ministries’ role. On one hand, law-enforcement officers and inspectors give the appearance of striking hard and swiftly, and this is frequently visible in media reports. But on the other, as in the case of the dyed peppers in Chongqing, and also seen in Beijing, what was previously confined to the bottom of a chemist’s crucible has now leaked out across the whole country. Businesses repeatedly take the blame for these ethical failures, but can it be that investigatory and supervisory duties are being neglected? Half of these incidents occurred in Chongqing, but is this down to strict law-enforcement, a sharp-eyed media or a chaotic food industry in the city? Or is it a by-product of the Chongqing’s "Red Education"?