Ketchup made from kitten paws, wig-wearing hairy crabs, sewer chuan’r … are these just some of the food scandals we can look forward to in 2012, or are they the ravings of a paranoid lunatic? (Ravings). But we can surely all be forgiven for fearing the worst after such a scandalicious (my word) 2011.
An article on Baidu Beat has rounded up the Top 10 Food Safety Issues of 2011. Here’s our summary of their list:
1. Toxic plasticizer in Taiwanese sports drinks, tea, jams and jellies.
2. Diet pills for pigs – chemical additives that increase lean meat in swine, unsurprisingly not very good for humans
3. Gutter oil – recycled cooking oil (sometimes literally scooped from the sewers) and re-boiled. In September, a Chinese journalist following the case was found stabbed to death.
4. Dyed steamed buns – Chinese bread coloured to appear fresh when it’s anything but. A Shanghai thing, apparently, they even appeared in supermarkets (with altered production dates).
5. Exploding watermelons – one of our absolute faves this year – growth hormones indelicately applied to said fruit resulting in BLAM! You can’t make this stuff up.
6. No bones for Haidilao - the hot pot chain came under criticism after diners learned that its bone soup, along with other soup mixes for its hot pot, is a blend made from packaged paste mixed with hot water.
7. Non merci, Evian et Volvic – the Chinese authorities sent back a batch of French mineral water after testing it for unhealthy levels of nitrate.
8. Bacteria-filled dumplings – Several companies’ frozen jiaozi were found to contain more than just pork and cabbage.
9. KFC misleading customers – the ads said freshly ground soy milk; the drink used soy milk concentrate and soy milk powder. Sigh, is nothing sacred?
10. Not really organic – brands of vegetables posing as organic were exposed as anything but.
The funny thing is (hahahaha… aha… ha) we missed some of the above, but caught loads of others, including several local to Beijing:
- Glow –in-the-dark pork
- Pollen-free honey
- Toxic Lipton tea pulled from supermarkets
- Offal-assembled ducks
- Bleached pig-trotters
- Dairy Queen milk issues
- Drugged fish
I've even experienced my own (unreported) mini scandal from a chuan’r place on Baochao Hutong in Gulou. The lamb skewers were inedibly salty and spicy so I asked for a second batch with no seasoning. The lady protested at first but eventually gave in. With the seasoning absent, one thing was clear: it was pork, not lamb. I’ve since been told this is fairly common - lamb is more expensive, chuan'r sellers are under pressure to keep costs at RMB 1 per skewer, so replace with pork soaked in a bit of lamb fat.
Personally I have a feeling that 2011 represents as low as Chinese food will fall - it's all uphill from now on. Towards the end of the year we've seen evidence of tightening regulations for small-scale producers and manufacturers (this is good and bad) and new legislation for food products. Food safety is higher on the agenda than ever, which will probably mean more scandals, but each unearthed atrocity is another bad egg weeded out of the food system. Speaking of eggs...