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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org