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Surprised? Hot pot in Shenzhen latest subject of food safety scare

Posted: 01/3/2013 9:03 am

There are very few laowai in China who don’t enjoy saddling up to a boiling broth of spicy goodness and dunking fish balls, lamb, noodles and vegetables inside while sipping ice cold Tsingtao.  Hot pot is particularly popular at this time of year, as the winter chill descends upon the PRD.

But there are new questions today over what exactly is in that boiling broth.  The Shenzhen Daily notes a survey was conducted the the city, and the results aren’t pretty:

The city’s market supervision administration conducted safety checks on 200 batches of hotpot materials, looking for heavy metals, pathogenic bacteria, illegal food additives and more. The inspection showed that 38 batches weren’t safe to eat.

Some meatballs and mushroom products, popular items for hotpot, contained sorbic acid and benzoic acid. Those meatballs and mushroom products are sold in some local supermarkets including the Sungang branch of Jiamanfu Supermarket, Xiyuelai Supermarket, and the Baodilili Department Store in Guanlan, Longhua New Area.

Fifteen batches of hotpot noodles contained benzoic acid and two batches had benzoyl peroxide, according to reports. Health experts say sorbic acid and benzoic acid are often used in preservatives and could damage the liver and kidneys if eaten in large quantities.

Five batches of mushrooms and dried white fungus had excessive sulfur dioxide residues, with some containing three times the standard level. Local food producers sometimes use excessive sulfur additives when smoking those foods to make them look better, local media has reported.

Two of the 27 batches of hotpot seasonings inspected by the market supervision commission failed to meet standards. Samples of the Chuanpeng brand sold in the Runxingjia Department Store, for example, were found to contain Rhodamine B and excessive preservatives. Rhodamine B is a synthetic dye with red coloring that has been banned as a food additive because it’s carcinogenic.

So what can be done? Well, choose your hot pot restaurant carefully. Some are more reputable brands than others, but that in itself doesn’t guarantee food safety (this is China, after all).  But large chain restaurants who have good reputations will be a far better bet than certain mom and pop shops with questionable sourcing for their ingredients.

Harry, the South China Morning Post‘s cartoonist, summed up the issue nicely:

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