Clean­ing up the dirty din­ing ta­ble

China has passed what is touted as its tough­est food-safety law. The push to pro­vide safe food to more than 1.3 bil­lion con­sumers is pro­vid­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for US com­pa­nies and their ex­per­tise, Paul Welitzkin re­ports from New York.

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE -

Food Science and Tech­nol­ogy and a pro­fes­sor of public health at Ire­land’s Univer­sity Col­lege Dublin.

He gave as ex­am­ples an out­break of mad cow dis­ease in the United King­dom and the con­tam­i­na­tion of food with dioxin in Bel­gium.

“The global food sup­ply chain has changed; it means that our food on the ta­ble can pos­si­bly come from any cor­ner in the world,” Wall told China Daily. “Food safety has be­come a global public health prob­lem.”

Even the US, with its long es­tab­lished sys­tem of food safety reg­u­la­tions on the fed­eral and state lev­els, has suf­fered from sev­eral in­ci­dents. Tainted food sick­ens 48 mil­lion Amer­i­cans a year, sends nearly 128,000 of them to the hos­pi­tal and leaves more than 3,000 dead, ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion.

Food that is shipped from the farm to the home or res­tau­rant can travel through a long and com­plex process. Safety con­cerns be­gin when a food prod­uct is ei­ther grown or de­vel­oped and con­tin­ues in the ship­ping process. Cer­tain food prod­ucts like milk must be re­frig­er­ated while oth­ers like pro­cessed meats must be made into an ed­i­ble prod­uct.

All through the com­pli­cated jour­ney a sys­tem based on reg­u­la­tions and in­spec­tions is re­quired to en­sure the fi­nal prod­uct is safe to con­sume. Jianghong Meng is the di­rec­tor of the Joint In­sti­tute for Food Safety and Ap­plied Nutri­tion and is also a pro­fes­sor at the depart­ment of Nutri­tion and Food Science at the Univer­sity of Mary­land in Col­lege Park, Mary­land. He noted that China’s rapidly de­vel­op­ing econ­omy has re­sulted in the gov­ern­ment play­ing catch up in many mat­ters of reg­u­la­tion and safety in the food chain. 2008. “We pro­vide con­sult­ing ser­vices on good man­u­fac­tur­ing prac­tices for the mak­ers of food prod­ucts,” said Fiona Zhang, the gen­eral man­ager for China at AIB.

AIB fo­cuses on the main­te­nance and san­i­tary de­sign of fa­cil­i­ties, in­te­grated pest man­age­ment strate­gies and per­sonal hy­giene for work­ers, Zhang said in an in­ter­view. “We do a lot of busi­ness with food con­tract pack­ag­ing. For ex­am­ple we help a com­pany to pro­duce the pack­ag­ing that is used for food prod­ucts.”

Zhang said AIB of­fers on-site train­ing and in­spec­tions in China. “We open up a lot of equip­ment to look for signs of con­tam­i­na­tion which can be a prob­lem in food man­u­fac­tur­ing,” she said. “We also pro­vide in­spec­tion ser­vices for bev­er­age fa­cil­i­ties. A lot of fa­cil­i­ties aren’t as clean as they should be and main­te­nance and hy­giene aren’t as good as they can be. That’s why we are there to im­prove that.”

Stephanie Lopez, pres­i­dent of AIB’s cer­ti­fi­ca­tion ser­vices, said safety is­sues such as ba­sic san­i­ta­tion prac­tices aren’t unique to China. “These is­sues can be found on a global ba­sis. That’s why we pro­vide a lot of train­ing and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams.”

Gre­gory Brown is a global man­ag­ing di­rec­tor in Shang­hai for Ann Ar­bor, Michigan-based NSF In­ter­na­tional, a prod­uct test­ing, in­spec­tion and cer­ti­fi­ca­tion or­ga­ni­za­tion. NSF was started in 1944 at the Univer­sity of Michigan as the Na­tional San­i­ta­tion Foun­da­tion to for­mu­late stan­dards for san­i­ta­tion and food safety re­quire­ments.

Brown said NSF’s work in China is fo­cused on wa­ter-prod­uct cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and food-equip­ment test­ing.

“A lot of our work is on di­etary sup­ple­ments. China is a large pro­ducer of in­gre­di­ents that are used in di­etary sup­ple­ments,” Brown told China Daily.

He said that NSF also helps pro­duc­ers in China with pro­pri­etary or sec­ond-party au­dits. “For ex­am­ple, we help set up au­dits for food safety in fast-food restau­rants,” he said.

“Food safety is a huge topic in China and food safety is a big con­cern among the public. The gov­ern­ment is fo­cused on im­prov­ing food safety ac­count­abil­ity in the coun­try,” added Brown.

Brown said China has wel­comed NSF to the coun­try: “China is open­ing up the mar­ket to out­side firms like NSF to help with cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and test­ing.”

In the be­gin­ning of China’s eco­nomic re­nais­sance, the coun­try placed al­most all of its at­ten­tion on ex­ports. But now it is be­com­ing more re­cep­tive to im­ports and food is no ex­cep­tion.

“In the seafood sec­tor China was a net ex­porter for about 10 years,”

The latest in a se­ries of food safety scares to hit China in­volves smug­gled frozen meat, some of it 40 years old.

Cus­toms of­fi­cials seized more than 100,000 tons of the meat worth up to 3 bil­lion yuan ($483 mil­lion), China Daily re­ported on Wed­nes­day.

“It was smelly. There was a whole truck of it. I nearly threw up when I opened the door,” Zhang Tao, an of­fi­cial that helped with the op­er­a­tion in Hu­nan province, told the news­pa­per.

Po­lice ar­rested gangs across 14 prov­inces this month as they at­tempted to sell the meat, which in­cluded frozen chicken wings, beef and pork.

In April there was another seizure of smug­gled frozen meat. More than 6,000 tons were seized in the south­ern province of Guang­dong, Xin­hua News Agency re­ported. The meat was mainly smug­gled from the United States, Brazil and Fin­land, ac­cord­ing to author­i­ties, and had not been sold on the do­mes­tic food mar­ket.

Smug­glers gen­er­ally pur­chase meat for very low prices from for­eign coun­tries, and have it de­liv­ered to Hong Kong in re­frig­er­ated con­tain­ers. The prod­ucts are then said Brown. “Now they are a net im­porter of seafood.”

Like con­sumers in such de­vel­oped coun­tries as the US and Europe, China’s ris­ing mid­dle class is open to pur­chas­ing food prod­ucts like seafood from over­seas. “Pre­vi­ously a lot of the seafood trade was lo­cally based and fresh in China. Now it is be­com­ing more in­volved with frozen prod­ucts from out­side the coun­try that are bought online,” added Brown.

Frozen prod­ucts bring in another as­pect of food safety is­sues ac­cord­ing to Brown, in­clud­ing cer­ti­fi­ca­tion of where the prod­uct was har­vested, pro­cessed and shipped. Con­sumers are de­mand­ing as­sur­ances on where the prod­uct orig­i­nated and dates for pro­cess­ing and ship­ping.

“This has led to de­mand for more cer­ti­fi­ca­tion in the sys­tem so ev­ery­one knows what went on and when it hap­pened in the process. We pro­vide coun­sel­ing and ad­vise­ment so com­pa­nies in China can pro­vide the proper test­ing to moved to the main­land via Viet­nam, where traders would smug­gle it across the bor­der to China with­out declar­ing it with cus­toms of­fi­cials or un­der­go­ing the re­quired en­try-exit in­spec­tion and quar­an­tine.

“To save costs, smug­glers of­ten hire or­di­nary ve­hi­cles in­stead of re­frig­er­ated ones. So the meat has of­ten thawed out sev­eral times be­fore reach­ing cus­tomers,” said Yang Bo, an anti-smug­gling of­fi­cial in Hu­nan province.

With­out in­spec­tion, the meat prod­ucts rot and pose a sig­nif­i­cant health risk, Yang said.

On the same day of the re­port on the smug­gled frozen meat, China’s Food and Drug Ad­min­is­tra­tion asked three milk pro­duc­ers in Shaanxi province to re­call sev­eral batches of goat in­fant for­mula af­ter ex­ces­sive ni­trate and in­suf­fi­cient se­le­nium were found in sam­ples, ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg News.

Ni­trate is widely present in wa­ter and soil and is harm­less to hu­mans by it­self, but the risk of tox­i­c­ity in­creases when it en­coun­ters cer­tain types of bac­te­ria, the food and drug reg­u­la­tor said in a state­ment. Se­le­nium is an es­sen­tial com­po­nent of in­fant for­mula, it said. en­sure stan­dards are met,” said Brown.

He said most of NSF’s em­ploy­ees in China are Chi­nese. “We see big growth in China and NSF is com­mit­ted to sup­ply­ing all the re­sources for our test­ing lab in China.” In China, NSF In­ter­na­tional ex­pe­ri­enced a 4.8 per­cent rev­enue growth in 2014 over 2013.

St. Paul, Min­nesota-based Eco­lab pro­vides wa­ter, hy­giene and energy tech­nolo­gies and ser­vices to the food, energy, healthcare, in­dus­trial and hos­pi­tal­ity mar­kets. Orig­i­nally founded as Eco­nom­ics Lab­o­ra­tory in 1923, the com­pany was re­named to Eco­lab in 1986.

Eco­lab, which first en­tered China in 1975, fo­cuses on pre­vent­ing cross-con­tam­i­na­tion at an­i­mal pro­duc­tion and food-pro­cess­ing fa­cil­i­ties, as well as hand hy­giene pro­grams for res­tau­rant em­ploy­ees. Eco­lab said it has pro­vided food safety train­ing to more than 4,000 em­ploy­ees in State-owned restau­rants and food ser­vice providers in 10 cities.

“Our prod­ucts and so­lu­tions can help our cus­tomers op­er­ate not only more ef­fi­ciently by sav­ing more wa­ter and energy con­sump­tion, but also more en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly by re­duc­ing chem­i­cal waste and dis­posal,” the com­pany said in a state­ment.

Eco­lab works closely with Chi­nese food-ser­vice cus­tomers on such things as the right au­to­matic dish­wash­ing de­ter­gents, rinse ad­di­tives, equip­ment and chem­i­cal dis­pens­ing equip­ment to prop­erly clean and san­i­tize all table­ware.

The push to mod­ern­ize and im­prove food safety has also opened the door for co­op­er­a­tion be­tween aca­demic in­sti­tu­tions in the US and China.

The Univer­sity of Mary­land’s Joint In­sti­tute for Food Safety and Ap­plied Nutri­tion, or Jif­san, has worked with the Asia Pa­cific Eco­nomic Co­op­er­a­tion (APEC) Food Safety Co­op­er­a­tion Fo­rum, led by China and Aus­tralia, to hold in-lab­o­ra­tory pi­lot train­ing for food safety sci­en­tists from Chile and China in 2013. The pi­lot pro­grams were held at the In­ter­na­tional Food Safety Train­ing Lab­o­ra­tory at Jif­san.

“Our pi­lot pro­ject was de­signed to pro­vide hands-on train­ing to lab work­ers in China,’’ said Janie Dubois, the lab­o­ra­tory pro­gram man­ager for the In­ter­na­tional Food Safety Train­ing Lab­o­ra­tory at the Univer­sity of Mary­land. “We brought two peo­ple over here for train­ing in ad­vanced an­a­lyt­ics. The goal is to train them to be teach­ers so they can go back to China to be­come train­ers them­selves on new food safety tech­niques for tech­ni­cal ex­perts and reg­u­la­tors in ar­eas like drug residue re­search.”

China un­der­stands it must pro­vide mod­ern tech­nol­ogy and lab­o­ra­to­ries to im­prove food safety, she told China Daily.

In May the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia Davis signed an agree­ment in Bei­jing to part­ner with a Chi­nese city and a univer­sity on food­safety pro­grams. The UC Davis World Food Cen­ter in Zhuhai in Guang­dong province will serve as the cen­tral of­fice for co­or­di­nat­ing re­search and train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties in food safety for var­i­ous Sino-U.S. Joint Re­search Cen­ters across the coun­try.

The city of Zhuhai is con­tribut­ing the first $2.5 mil­lion to the cen­ter for ini­tial projects.

“China has placed a very high pri­or­ity on im­prov­ing the safety of its food and restor­ing con­fi­dence in con­sumers here and around the world,” Roger Beachy, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the UC Davis World Food Cen­ter, said. Con­tact the writer at paulwelitzkin@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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