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Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

Asia

Five detained in China food scandal involving big firms

The Straits Times | Saturday, Jul 26, 2014

Japan's Family Mart convenience store chain said it had, like McDonald's Japan, stopped selling chicken nuggets from the Chinese firm.

Five people have been detained in a widening probe into a Shanghai-based firm that allegedly supplied stale meat to global food giants, such as McDonald's, KFC and Starbucks, which reached some outlets in Japan.

They included the head of the disgraced supplier, Shanghai Husi Food, and the quality department's manager, said local police in an online statement yesterday.

Husi, which is a unit of United States-based OSI Group, was shut down by regulators on Sunday following a TV report that showed its workers repackaging chicken and beef with expired sell-by dates.

The food safety scandal led to a growing list of international food chains, like Burger King, having to pull products from their shelves in China after it emerged that their meat supplies were from Husi.

Japan said yesterday it had banned food imports processed by Husi. This came as the country's Family Mart convenience store chain said it had, like McDonald's Japan, stopped selling chicken nuggets from the Chinese firm.

The official Xinhua news agency quoted Shanghai's food and drug watchdog as saying that food safety violations at the firm were company-led rather than the acts of individuals. The quality department manager confessed during investigations that the malpractice had been going on for years with senior managers' tacit approval, Xinhua said.

Already, more than 5,100 crates of meat products, including chicken nuggets, pork patties and beef steaks, were found to have used out-of-date or mouldy ingredients, it added. According to investigators, these were sold to nine brands, including McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut, Burger King, 7-Eleven and Taiwanese-owned Dicos.

In a separate statement, the Shanghai watchdog said that it had also sealed more than 1,000 tonnes of suspected meat products from OSI in China, and another 100 tonnes from some of Husi's customers.

Nearby provinces like Jiangsu and Anhui were also found to have food products supplied by Husi, the official China Daily newspaper reported, citing local officials. McDonald's outlets in Nanjing, Jiangsu's capital, have since removed 18 food products including hamburgers from the menu, it added.

The unravelling scandal has outraged Chinese consumers and become one of the most discussed topics online, with netizens giving a long list of firms thought also to be tarnished.

Some were shocked that even foreign food giants - which are presumed to adopt better safety standards - have been implicated, while others held regulators responsible.

Ms Niu Xiangyu, a teacher in her 30s, said while her family do not eat at fast-food outlets often, they will stop ordering from Pizza Hut for now.

"I won't be bringing my family to any of the affected restaurants for now. It's obvious that home cooking is still the safest option," she added.

Almost half of the Chinese netizens commenting on the scandal directed their anger at poor supervision by regulators, the China Youth Daily reported yesterday.

But others were not perturbed.

Shanghai-based consultant Jane Cheng, 30, said she would still patronise the affected food outlets, acknowledging that indifference had set in after a string of food scares in the past.

"I eat street food and have not fallen sick once," she said. "I'm glad the government and news media have been increasing scrutiny over food safety, but there aren't that many options here other than trusting my stomach."

esthert@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 24, 2014.
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