Who touched my food? (3)


Exploding watermelons, artificial sea cucumbers and sulphur-smoked ginger all appear in the latest instalment of our fortnightly food safety news summary – “Who touched my food?” –  covering the period May 17 to May 27.

May 17, Southeast Network: mercury levels were found to be excessive in half of children under three in a particular community in Xiamen city, explained Dr Chen Guixia, deputy director of Xiamen’s children’s hopsital. In a sample of individual communities, the highest rate of mercury exposure reached 53%. An excess accumulation of mercury in children will affect their nervous system. According to the survey, some children with high levels of mercury exposure were often fed fish and seafood by their parents.

May 17, the use of growth enhancer in watermelons in Danyang City, Jiangsu Province, caused the fruit to explode. It is unclear whether or not exposure to growth enhancer causes harm to humans, though data suggests long-term consumption of fruit grown using growth enhancers may be potentially harmful to human kidneys. Currently chemical growth enhancers are used on watermelons, cucumbers, kiwis, tomatoes and  other fruits and vegetables in order to “increase the efficiency” of their production.

May 18, Xinhua: in Beijing, poor quality packets of duck meat were discovered on sale at Qianmen, West Train Station and other places. Most of the packets found had such a bad stench that the head and tail was difficult to distinguish from rotting meat.

May 18, Guangzhou Daily: pork balls produced by Little Sheep Industry of Shenzhen in Guangdong were included on a list of unsatisfactory foodstuffs and businesses published by the Shenzhen Market Authority. The “ultra-fine” pork balls were found to be made with compound phosphates, an excess quantity of which can cause rickets in children. The main distribution area for the product is Shenzhen

May 22, Guangzhou Daily: law enforcement officers in Shaoguan City, Guandong, investigated workshops processing dead chickens. An inside source revealed that the dead chickens were bought for 1 yuan each, and then processed into “Hong chicken” for sale abroad.

May 23, Beijing Morning Post: artificial sea cucumbers, with no mouth and no innards, were discovered in Beijing. They were suspected to include seaweed powder and plastic substances made of complex components. It is uncertain whether the product is harmful, though some have said that they experienced dizziness and other symptoms after eating it.

May 24, Beijing News: Beijing Municipal Food Safety Office announced that 60 types of substandard noodles were being taken off shelves in the city. They included 32 with added benzoic acid and 54 with excessive use of sodium cyclamate.

May 26, Qilu Evening News: in Zaozhuang city, Shandong province, a water-based delivery operator said tripe, shutters, cuttlefish and other products on the market are soaked in industrial grade sodium hydroxide, or even formaldehyde solution and bleached in hydrogen peroxide.

May 27, Xi’an Evening News: a noodle shop selling spinach noodles which consisted mostly of green powdered fruit additives was exposed in Xi’an. After investigation, it was found these additives are mostly sold in bakeries and restaurants.

May 27, Beijing News: the Beijing Industry and Commerce Bureau seized more than 500 pounds of substandard ginger. The ginger, which was old and of poor quality, had been smoked using sulphur and then sold in public markets.

Editor’s comments: As in the case of the rotten duck, poor food quality can be staggering, but most of the time consumers are grappling with a less visible danger: the murky and vast world of additives. Most people are unable to determine the health effects of such chemicals, turning their choices about what to eat into a tightrope walk. Who actually benefits from this food chemistry? In this multi-faceted game, with many competing interests, it is never we consumers who get to decide what we eat.