Nov 07, 2011 By Andrea Scarlatelli ,

When people think of food scandals in China, most people think of the 2008 melamine milk incident, in which six infants died and over 300,000 people fell sick, some with serious kidney complications. Sadly, that was by no means the first time China was host to abominable shortcuts when it came to food. Past incidents include soy sauce made from human hair collected from salons and hospitals (2003), stinky tofu fermented with sewage (2007), marinating duck in goat urine to pass it off as lamb meat (2009), and replacing the blood in pork blood pudding with formaldehyde, salt, food colouring and corn starch (2009).

While certain food scandals get cleaned up and cracked down upon by the government, new ones constantly crop up. So what are the ones that are turning consumers’ stomachs nowadays? Read on for the fake and contaminated food in China that is grabbing today’s headlines.

Wolf in Sheep’s Skin: Fake and Contaminated Foods in China


1) Rice
News channels in Hong Kong, Korea and Vietnam went wild when it was revealed that some manufacturers were selling plastic rice for consumption in Taiyuan, Shanxi province, in 2011. The concoction, made with a blend of sweet potatoes, potatoes and plastic industrial resin, has mainly been sold to poor farmers. According to an employee of the Chinese Restaurant Association, three bowls of this fake rice is the equivalent of eating one plastic bag.

2) Baozi buns
Chinese officials have come out saying the multiple reports sprouting from Shanghai in 2010 on fake baozi buns were, well, fake – but most of the Chinese and expat population believe that the government is simply trying to save face. The buns are made from a combination of cardboard soaked to a pulp in caustic soda (a chemical used in paper and soap making), powdered seasoning and fatty pork. This type of shortcut is apparently used all over China, although the original report came out of Beijing.

3) Beef
Since pork is quite a bit cheaper than beef, some restaurants are simply soaking their cuts of pork in sodium borate, a detergent additive that gives it the texture and taste of real beef. The really scary part? Only five grams of this sodium borate is enough to kill a child, while for others it can cause long term poisoning, cancer and deformities. Marinating the cut of pork (or, in some cases, chicken) for only a couple hours can be enough to pass it off to the consumer.

4) Eggs
While eggs seem like a difficult item to fake, the practice has gained momentum this year. And while it is true that quite a process is involved, the cost effectiveness still makes it worthwhile for food scammers. So what exactly is in these fake eggs? That would be sodium alga acid, water, gelatine, baifan, sodium benzoate, lactones, carboxymethyl cellulose, calcium carbide, lysine, food colouring agent, calcium chloride, paraffin wax and gypsum powder, to be exact.

Not Quite What They Seem:

1) Wheat and rice flour
China sure loves its melamine. Mixing it into wheat flour and rice flour artificially increased protein levels in dog food (which was pretty much the same reason they mixed it into baby formula a few years ago) that was shipped overseas in 2007. This resulted in over 4,000 dogs dying after essentially being poisoned to death.

2) Noodles
Sweet potatoe glass noodles, particularly popular in certain Sichuan dishes, are supposed to be made of, well, sweet potatoes (sweet potatoe flour, to be exact). This gives them a transparent but blackish, purplish colour. In 2011, however, a few factories in Guangdong province decided to go a cheaper route and make them out of corn flour instead. And how did they achieve that unique colour? By mixing printing ink, green dye and paraffin wax (normally used to make candles).

3) Baozi buns
Consumers who thought buying baozi from a grocery store was more sanitary than buying it off the street were sadly mistaken when reports surfaced of buns that had passed their expiration dates being given new life by the manufacturer. These stale buns were simply mixed with water, yellow food colouring (which has been declared illegal), flour and so much artificial sweetener that it “exceeded national standards.” As many as 336,000 buns were then sold back to stores as new.

4) Mushrooms
An independent study found that over 81% of fresh mushrooms sold at markets contain levels of fluorescent bleach, which is used to make the mushrooms appear whiter and more recently picked. This study was done in Beijing in 2010 and promptly shot down by the government, but subsequent surveys in the media have found that most Chinese citizens believe the original findings. Luckily, this addition doesn’t seem to apply to dried mushrooms.

Obviously the effects of eating fake and tainted food are numerous. And while it is almost impossible to tell exactly how many people are suffering illnesses or diseases from tainted food in China, current Chinese estimates put the number well over 300 million citizens and cost over 168 billion Yuan a year, according to the Asian Development Bank. Sadly, until food safety is (seriously) moved to the forefront of government priorities, these cases will only multiply.

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Keywords: fake and contaminated foods in China food scandals in China 2011 food safety in China dirty foods in China

39 Comments Add your comment



My god. I wish I hadn't read this. Or maybe I should have. Well that's the biggest downside to living in China. You can't trust anything you eat. And you also can't starve to death. These are the times I really miss the food back in my country. I remember when my friend got all worked up after discovering that the KFC chicken he practically eats every other day is fried in oil that's usually been used three days over. Insanity. This is why I rarely go out to eat. I always force myself to cook. But even then, god knows what 's in the stuff I use to cook.

Nov 07, 2011 09:20 Report Abuse


David 1

If your friend is willing to eat K.F.C then he obviuosly isn't worried about what he eats. I heard that one the "colonel's" 9 secret ingredients is atomic waste[?]

Nov 07, 2011 14:02 Report Abuse



I thought it was 11 secret herbs and spices.

Nov 08, 2011 05:46 Report Abuse


kai ling

if you have ever worked in a resteraunt in the states with a deep fryer you would know that most places only change their oil once a week. so 3 days is pretty good. ive worked at a place that waited 20 days as recommended by the oil producer.

Jan 17, 2012 04:13 Report Abuse



There have been many truly horrific reports of food safety related incidents in China in recent years. But it should all be taken in context. China is one of the biggest producers of food in the world and these incidents relate to only a tiny percentage of what is actually produced. There are many reputable food producers in China. Indeed, many of them are multinationals with high reputation. There are also many internationally known bodies working endlessly to improve the China food supply chain. It is not all doom and gloom.

Nov 07, 2011 15:50 Report Abuse



I think you miss the point somewhat

"suffering illnesses or diseases 300 million citizens and cost over 168 billion Yuan a year"
How does this compare with smoking? Which is sometimes fake too.

Doesn't matter that some producers are good and the majority probably are, it is the fact that it keeps happening. That falls directly at the feet of the government. They are responsible for the quality of the nations food. It is simple stuff, Food, Water and Air. You die without it and it seems 300 million are being effected by the food alone.

Nov 07, 2011 18:05 Report Abuse



Actually, Point, I think you missed the point. The article is about food. Not cigarettes. Even though you might include your cigarettes in the "grocerie" budget, the article is not about cigarettes. So to draw a comparison with the two is a little off base. I agree that cigarette smoking is an epidemic habit in China, but again, the article is about food.

Nov 08, 2011 06:17 Report Abuse


off point

of course it is about food.
Did you read only the first few lines.
"Is food so bad that you can compare to smoking"
That is supporting the facts of the article by comparing.

Nov 08, 2011 18:32 Report Abuse



I don't see any mention of conventional drugs or smoking in the article. Maybe my computer is not displaying the whole article for some reason.

There is a reason why we classify things as "drugs" and other things as "food." A big difference between "drugs" and "food" is that one is not necessary to life but the other is. Cigarettes are a drug and are not necessary to continue living. If the article was comparing cigarettes to alcohol to marijuana to cocaine, then I think it would be proper to compare cigarettes. However, the article is not comparing different drugs. It is talking about food, which is why it makes this article more powerful and moving. People who smoke in today's society know of the harmful health risks that smoking causes. Yet it is their personal choice. People buying food are doing so in a good faith effort to get nutrition in order to continue living. So, there are two different reasons for consumption as well. I think that the comparison of food to cigarettes is not a good comparison. They are two different things. The article didn't compare different diseases or different ways to die. The article was very narrowly talking about food. I stand by my first statement, it is missing the point to talk about cigarettes. Comparing food to drugs is not a good comparison.

Nov 08, 2011 22:39 Report Abuse



You are right. Drugs are a choice while food isn't.
So if you are effected by drugs then that is ones own fault but if food is doing similar then that can't be good. hence the comparing of the two. The fact is we shouldn't have to but when you can it is a sad day.
I know you won't understand it this way as you don't want to.

Nov 10, 2011 04:07 Report Abuse



Good article! I have discussed this issue many times with native chinese around the country asking why in the heck the producer doesn't just raise prices and put out a legit product...more often than not the reply I received was that no one would buy it at the higher price.

Nov 07, 2011 16:00 Report Abuse



no regard for human life in country. so despicable

Nov 07, 2011 20:57 Report Abuse



the effort that is put into punishing people who think independently should be diverted to food safety

Nov 07, 2011 20:59 Report Abuse



THATS WHY I only eat Star Farm traceable products. When a farmer/factory owner is willing to give name, address, location and full transparency on their product it makes me a BUYER! I'm proud to say I eat clean!

Nov 07, 2011 22:18 Report Abuse


Nice idea but

Nice idea eric.

But how can you be certain that no-one will start to fake the brand, if it becomes more marketable.

Someone else above talked about increasing margins. If you can increase margins, and then slide in a fake product. Hey presto, more profit.

But most fake product is bought as it is a few cents cheaper. The consumer is very price focused/addicted here.

But I have learned that there are no bargains in China. The product that costs twice as much is usually twice as good. Much better performance and will last beyond a week or 7 days. This is especially true of consumer durable.
Yes Caching, I am not talking about food. But the same basic rule about no bargains still holds.

Nov 09, 2011 02:37 Report Abuse



hmmmmmmmmmmm... one need to be careful at what he/she eats outside and even the ones you cook at home, bcos you dont know what they made from. but i think, the best is to eat more at home than you eat outside.

Nov 07, 2011 21:00 Report Abuse



You know, in the good old days, such people would be publicly flogged, and then hanged and left on display for all to see in the town square... ahhh, those were the days!

Perhaps we should return to such humbler times, instead of worrying about suing people, and fines, and getting money back...

Nov 08, 2011 03:24 Report Abuse


Skull N Cross Bones



Nov 08, 2011 04:42 Report Abuse



Fake money, fake food, fake girls...should I go on?

Nov 08, 2011 05:48 Report Abuse



heheheheheheeh............fake money, and fake food.........u can quit buddy, but for fake girls i think u can go on. bad apple...........dont have to remind u that both money and food are collective nouns but there are several hundred millions of girls, so u cant quit...thats cute anyway.

Nov 08, 2011 16:39 Report Abuse



Everyone loves to quote statistics without disclosing the source. Independent study can mean a lot of things. I don't trust any statistcal result, no matter what country it is from, unless it has upper and lower limits defined, a confidence interval, and reports the number of the populace interviewed. For all we know, these studies were done by one firm, only interviewing a selected number of tainted companies. What about all the rural farmers growing mushrooms? Do they bother with trying to bleach their mushrooms white?

Nov 08, 2011 06:03 Report Abuse



Does this guy work for the Government in China.
You can actually come up with a way to say how it may not even be true?
Is that hole in the ground bigger enough for others to put their heads in too?

Nov 10, 2011 04:15 Report Abuse



Chaching, the report was saying that these kind of things are going on in China. Unless you are a real doubting Thomas skeptic and believe nothing like this goes on, then you probablely either work for a comapany that is doing this or the Government and don't want anyone to believe it!
I don't want to bust your bubble, but there are a lot of things like this going on in China because, there is not enough regulation, inspections or punishment.

Nov 10, 2011 22:31 Report Abuse



@goodness and aajada
He's not saying it's not true. @ goodness, you're the one with his head in the ground because you obviously either haven't read it or you don't have the capacity to fully comprehend what Chaching wrote. In simpler terms, He's not saying that it didn't happen. He's just saying that the study might have been done on a small scale and may not exactly be pertainable with every bit of food in China. What do we know? He's also saying that the article gives facts but doesn't cite the sources. After all, what are the point of articles if not to gain readers. Who knows if they are just taking extreme facts from various finding about food problems in China and where this information is even coming from or when it happened? I don't see any links to sources, do you? They obviously want to make a point but cite concrete sources to back it up with. For the more careful and educated reader, its important to back up your facts. Obviously, that wasn't important to you both before getting all riled up about it.
Oh and before you say I'm ignoring the main fact that China has problems with tainted food, I'm not. I acknowledge that various websites and newpapers have written about it. It happens because China still doesn't have a handle on food regulation, but I'm not going to freak out and take every single thing I read about it to the extreme, especially if the information isn't even cited with credible sources.

Jun 29, 2012 19:13 Report Abuse



China's economy stats are fake, so are your nice leather bag, jeans and shoes! Why on earth will they not produce fake food? Can you imagine what a great time corrupt companies like Nestle are having in China?

Nov 08, 2011 16:16 Report Abuse