Taiwan snack makers face expired food probe

Inspection on one of Taiwan's biggest middlemen traders led to scandals involving the sales of expired food products by two famous snack food companies less than one month before the traditional snack high season of Chinese New Year.

Historic biscuit and snack food maker Kuai Kuai Co. is embroiled in one of its biggest scandals in years after a company employee admitted to have knowingly sold expired gummies to the Ho Ya food company, a Changhua-based trader under investigation for supplying outdated foodstuffs and soft drinks to night market and wet market vendors.

Inspectors also searched another Ho Ya supplier, the famous Chinese food company Weng Cai Ji at its production line in Longtan yesterday.

The two investigations have renewed public concern about food safety following a massive scare in late May triggered by plasticizer contamination and at a time when people begin to shop for Chinese New Year snacks.

New Year stable food company probed

Inspectors from the Nantou District Prosecutors Office and the Taoyuan County Public Health Bureau at the Weng Cai Ji unit sealed some 5,000 packages of roasted watermelon seeds, roasted board beans, peanuts and green peas at the site pending further decision from the prosecutors office.

Roasted watermelon seeds are one of the tradition stable snack foods during Chinese New Year holiday.

A Weng Cai Ji official surnamed Lin said that a small trader was found to have sold expired company products but stressed that the vendor in question may have decided to keep and sell expired goods on its own because of bad sales. The company only sells outdated goods as fodder and it asks all vendors to return products with two months left until expiration for disposal, Lin added.

The official emphasised that Weng Cai Ji will absolutely not sell expired products to vendors because it is a brand name company.

Kuai Kuai staff admits guilt

Kuai Kuai sales manager Yang Chih-fong told inspectors at the Changhua District Prosecutors Office early yesterday that he decided to sell outdated "Fruit Platter Gummy Sweets" along with fresh products to Ho Ya in order to reduce their stockpile but claimed to have acted alone.

Prosecutors have reservations on Yang's confession, questioning how one employee can pull off the scam on his own in such a large food company. Their demand for Yang's detention over worries of collusion with accomplices, however, was overruled by the Changhua District Court. Yang and three other Kuai Kuai employees questioned by the prosecutors were all released on bail.

The prosecutors were tipped off by Ho Ya owner Chen Cheng-li, detained since Dec. 7 on suspicion of buying expired goods on the cheap and reselling them to vendors, when Chief Prosecutor Yeh Chien-cheng questioned him on an unusually low-price shipment of the fruit gummies in May.

Chen claimed to have struck a deal with a Kuai Kuai salesperson surnamed Kuo to buy 800 boxes of gummies with three months left until expiration along with 500 boxes of expired gummies for NT$30 (S$1.30) apiece. With each box containing 144 gummy packs, Ho Ya paid a NT$0.2 per package for the whole bunch. The trader then changed the date on the labels of expired gummies and resold them to vendors with a tenfold price increase to NT$2 per package, Chen told the prosecution.

The scandal comes not just as a hit to the image of the popular company but also as a shock to many Taiwanese people. Since the pharmaceutical company Tung Da renamed itself Kuai Kuai and went into snack food and biscuit business in 1968 targeting mainly children, it has become one of the most successful food brands in Taiwan thanks to its TV advertisement campaign and its tactic of including small toys in snack packages. Even Yeh, the chief prosecutor, admitted to be "shocked and saddened" by his findings because "I too grew up eating Kuai Kuai snacks."

The scandal is especially poignant since the term "Kuai Kuai" means "good behavior" in Mandarin Chinese. According to a report by the United Daily News, it is an unspoken rule among some telecom and media companies to place Kuai Kuai snacks in server rooms so that the machines would "better behave."

Kuai Kuai Co. claims innocence

The food company is currently in full crisis management mode. Local media reported that lights went on at the company headquarters in Taipei late Monday night. Kuai Kuai officials claimed innocence and said the company would cooperate with the authorities to see whether it was a criminal act by a rogue employee.

The prosecutors and the Taoyuan County Public Health Bureau yesterday inspected Kuai Kuai's production and shipment procedures at its Zhongli factory for any possible glitches that might have led to the shipment of expired or substandard inventory. They found a large stockpile of expired products but the company stressed those were collected at the plant for routine destruction that takes place every two months.