The initial findings of a government investigation into a Shenzhen-area Walmart have not shown that staff were engaged in unsafe food practices, despite an employee going undercover to show brazen violations of food safety standards. That employee has since been suspended.
The Shenzhen Market Supervision Management Department – Luohu Division has announced that a preliminary investigation has not found any illegal activity at the Shenzhen Walmart store, reports Yangcheng Evening Report. The anonymous informant had made the allegations in a television report in which he said the store’s upper management were aware of all incidents because they were the result of cost-saving measures undertaken by the store.
Among the allegations of improper food preparation include the prolonged use of frying oil that was not changed for a month at a time, the use of expired meats in customer meals, and instances where rice overgrown with worms was re-sold in the prepared foods department.
While the investigation is still ongoing, we have some clues as to how the investigation is being conducted.
The Shenzhen Market Supervision Management Department has inspected the operations area, storeroom, and freezer room at the Honghu Walmart store. Inspectors have taken a total of six samples: frying oil, rice, and two each of cooked beef and raw materials.
The inspection said samples of cooking oil taken at the Walmart in question “met standards” despite the same report admitting that national Chinese standards do not provide any clear regulations on the use of cooking oil.
The inspectors have still not yet found any evidence of worms appearing in rice, which apparently happened in March 2013, according to the whistleblower’s video. A source said that may be too long ago to matter to the investigation:
If he was able to record a recent video and then report it on the same day, then there would have been a better result.
The preliminary investigation has also not found that Walmart exceeded the time limits associated with the preservation of meat ingredients.
Walmart previously denied the allegations made against it, and insisted it upholds the highest safety standards while remaining more than willing to assist any and all official investigations.
Meanwhile the employee who blew the whistle is collecting wages during his suspension. A notice the employee received on August 10 reads:
Although the business department has verified in a preliminary investigation that your complaint is not factual, there may still be a follow-up investigation. As the complainant, there is an obligation for the business department to do a follow-up investigation. At the same time, the company will publicize the results of this internal investigation and will require your cooperation. In order to advance to the next stage of investigations, the company has decided to stop employing you.
The informant said he blew the whistle after being reassigned to the meat department on July 29, a move that made the employee extremely dissatisfied. Furthermore, the informant said that he had previous altercations with his store superior, one of which was reported to the police.
However, he said these factors didn’t cause him to come forward:
I don’t want to hide my conscience anymore. If I wanted to make money, I could have gone to the industry department and made a report to earn a reward. I just want to let the customers know just what they are eating at Walmart.
The employee had three videos that were recently used as part of the television news report: a January 2014 video depicting old oil that wasn’t changed, a February 2014 video depicting the use of expired meats in which the employee himself altered a best before date, and a March 2013 video of rice that was allegedly infested with worms and sold.
The informant said turning to the media has left him isolated:
No employees are willing to take a stand on this and admit what they have seen and done. Instead, they say that they don’t know anything. It’s like as though I’m the one person that is deliberately provoking Walmart.
No word on when the full report will be published.