Over half of food processing and packaging firms on the Chinese mainland failed safety inspections in 2011 – a figure food quality control company AsiaInspection has called “alarming.”
According to a report by the China-based company, 51% of all food facility check-ups conducted in the country failed, with ‘major’ defects including cases of rodent faecal contamination accounting for around 10%.
This figure covers food products inspected in food processing and packaging facilities.
Chemical contamination has also become a worrying factor – with incidents in the Chinese food processing sector becoming commonplace, the company said.
Over 4.5bn tons of food was exported from China in 2011 alone – a potential cause for concern for importers of food products from the state.
A major defect “could be mould, strong odours showing spoiled food, any sort of living specimen, mud or dust traces, feathers in chicken meat, bones in a fish filet, etc. Basically, anything that could turn the food production into a loss or put a consumer at risk,” AsiaInspection CEO Sebastien Breteau told FoodQualityNews.com.
Breteau added that despite 57% of food packaging inspections resulting in a fail, people do not regard packaging defects as ‘critical’.
“Food packaging defects may not seem critical,” he said.
“But by the time food leaves the factory and hits store shelves, toxic amounts of contaminants like formaldehyde and lead can leech out of packaging, contaminate food and cause serious harm to consumers.”
According to China’s State Administration for Industry and Commerce, 62,000 illegal food cases were reported in 2011.
In addition, authorities stopped the operation of 43,000 unlicensed food producing business and nearly 600 food industry operators had their business licenses revoked.
In December 2011, China’s largest dairy company Mengniu was forced to destroy a batch of milk contaminated with aflatoxin – a substance that can cause liver cancer.
Clenbuterol, which is also banned by the Chinese government, is routinely found in food products from the country.
The toxic substance, which is often referred to as lean meat powder, is administered to animals to give them more tender meat.
“China is big and their economy is booming. Ignorance and greed are not acceptable qualities for the food industry. In some cases it is either ignorance or sloppiness, but in some cases, such as the 2008 milk scandal in China, it is purely criminal,” Breteau added.
“In the milk scandal example, China's largest and most reputable milk producers were injecting the powder with melamine to make it appear as if it had a higher protein level than it really did.”
“The Chinese regulatory bodies will not be able to solve all the problems by themselves. We know about things they found, but what about the things they have not found? This is where it lies on the importer and end re-seller to perform their own due diligence and insure the food is safe for consumers,” he concluded.