Are You Gonna Eat That?
by Sarah Zheng
Food safety scandals that have recently rocked China have brought to light businesses’ lax standards and the extent to which they will go to cut costs. In response to growing community concern, the Chinese government is now clamping down harder than ever on poor food safety practices.Approximately 2000 people have already been arrested in the food safety crackdown, with nearly 5000 businesses being closed down after investigation by the State Food and Drug Administration and its sub-department, the National Institute of Nutrition and Food Safety. Authorities have also announced that safety informers might receive rewards for whistle blowing. According to China’s Food Safety Commission, 3.5 million enforcement officers have been investigating over 6 million food producers.
This staggering number of inspections has resulted in a frightening list of horror stories about food handling and production. And the list continues to grow.
One of the most shocking involved Shuanghui group, China’s largest meat processor, which was caught feeding pigs clenbuterol, an additive that is poisonous to humans, to eliminate fat and increases muscle growth. Large amounts of tainted pork were then sold to consumers, resulting in many cases of people with symptoms like nausea, dizziness, and heart palpitations. While those found responsible for the pork scandal have been given harsh sentences (including the death sentence), stories continue to emerge.
Even foreign food chains have come under this new scrutiny. Investigators discovered that Ajisen Ramen was using cheap powders and instant seasoning for its noodle soup instead of cooking the soup fresh out of its outlets. Fried chicken giant KFC also admitted to using liquid concentrates to make their soybean milk instead of selling freshly ground soybean milk. More disturbingly, on August 2nd, a nine-year-old boy found live maggots in his McDonald’s chicken in Hunan province. A video of this appalling scene spread on China’s weibo, to the disgust of many netizens.
Beijing representative of the NGO Global Food Safety Forum (GFSF) and food safety lawyer Sang Liwei acknowledges that it is the government’s responsibility to guarantee food safety. Sang told to the Wall Street Journal that “food producers—who often operate on thin profit margins in China—are feeling squeezed by higher costs for things like fuel and labor” because of inflation, leading to their use of chemicals and additives to improve their products.
In light of recent events, how do we make sure that we are eating safe food products? Kimberly Ashton, resident integrative nutrition consultant, helps us out with a few tips.
1. Shop and eat smart
The best way to reduce risk of unsafe products is to eat fresh foods that you cook and prepare by yourself, like “whole foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, grains, and legumes”. Ashton suggests finding out where your food comes from by visiting the organic farm you are eating from or by asking the vegetable or meat supplier. Choose clean, quality restaurants and be sensible when it comes to buying food at local markets.
2. Avoid certain foods
Obviously, you should avoid the foods and restaurants in particular that have been exposed for potentially posing as a health hazard. In addition, Ashton suggests avoiding “food [that is] not in season, as it means growing it involved chemicals, pesticides, and other undesirable methods that you and your family do not want to be ingesting”. Make sure you also limit your junk food intake, since processed and packaged foods contain many chemicals that may not be safe.
3. Buying organic foods where possible
Organically grown foods are a good option to make sure you are eating high quality natural products that are fresh, safe, and healthy. FIELDS is an organic foods supplier in Shanghai, and one of a growing number of who guarantee that they screen their suppliers about farming methods, making sure there’s no sue of pesticides or herbicides, growth hormones, or genetic modifications.
Food safety is a problem that is not unique to China, with recent reports of an E. Coli outbreak in Michigan ground beef and the discovery of radioactive cesium in Japanese cows proving it’s a problem even in developed countries. However taking some simple precautions can go a long way to keeping our families safe.