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Top 8 global brands caught in China's food safety scandals

Publication Date : 31-07-2014


With China witnessing an ever-increasing appetite for global food brands, helped by the consumers trust in their quality and time-honored reputation, the recent scandals involving some of the biggest names have left many consumers with lost appetite.

When the scandal broke out over Shanghai Husi Food Co supplying expired meat, international brands such as KFC, McDonald's and Starbucks were forced into the spotlight over their quality control.

The expired products were sold to nine companies, including Pizza Hut, Burger King, Papa John's and Dicos.

Frustrated by food safety scandals over the past few years, many Chinese consumers opted for Western food suppliers in search of reliable and delicious alternatives, only to find the same problem over and over again.

More than 60 per cent of the respondents to a survey conducted earlier this year by 51 Report, a comprehensive online service provider for industry research and analysis, said that they preferred Chinese fast food because it was healthier and of better quality despite the large-scale promotion done by Western fast food giants.

Legal experts and industry insiders are calling for more stringent legislation on food safety as this issue has spread across the country and tested consumers' confidence and patience.

The case also comes close on the heels as China attempts the first revision of the Food Safety Law, which took effect in 2009.

Will the food safety issue ever be contained and are Chinese consumers losing faith in the imported food quality on their table? Let's take a look at the round up of the food scandals that have ensnared global brands in recent years in China.

1. OSI Group

It isn't a household name, but the company at the centre of the food scandal in China helps make some of the world's most popular foods.

OSI Group, a privately-held company based in Aurora, Illinois, was thrust into the spotlight this weekend when a Chinese TV station reported that one of its Shanghai plants repackaged old beef and chicken and slapped new expiration dates on them.

The scare has ensnared some famous chains that got ingredients from a unit of OSI (pronounced OH-see) in the region called Husi Food Co.

The controversy deepened when five workers of Husi were detained by police. An official with China's food safety regulator told the media that some of the illegal conduct it uncovered was an arrangement "organised" by Husi.

2. KFC

The latest scandal of the fast food chain of using expired meat is not the only scare that this American fast-food chain has given Chinese consumers.

In July 2013, China Central Television reported that ice samples taken from KFC in Beijing contained 12 times as much bacteria as toilet water and 19 times the allowable bacteria levels for drinking water in China. A series of food scandals in the past few years, such as quick-growth chickens served by KFC and also a report on KFC's meat contains naphthalene red, have shaken Chinese consumer's confidence in this famous brand.

3. McDonald's

When the long-time McDonald's meat supplier - Shanghai Husi Food Co was shut down, this famous fast-food brand was again brought under the spotlight by food safety scandals.

The impact at McDonald's menu was far greater. A spokeswoman, Heidi Barker Sa Shekhem, said the Shanghai plant supplied products including sausage patties, ham patties, beef patties and chicken nuggets. As of July 23, McDonald's locations in Shanghai were still unable to serve some items.

Scandals on McDonald's in 2013 also showed that this chain has been using quick-growth chicken.

Due to the vast size of the fast-food market in China, which poses an obstacle to consistent regulating, foreign companies are going to need to invest a lot more resources in their supply lines, an expert said.

4. Starbucks

The latest fast food scandal in China has brought US coffee chain Starbucks products under the spotlight.

Starbucks said some of its cafes previously sold products containing chicken from Shanghai Husi Food Co, which was suspected of using expired meat.

The Seattle-based company has already provided 725,000 training hours for 14,000 employees in China and moved more than 110 young employees back to their hometown to become managers in new stores.

In 2013, Starbucks was questioned of using "toilet water" to brew its coffee after photos of a "Starbucks Only" water spout in a bathroom emerged on the web in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong-based tabloid Apple Daily first published images of the questionable practice along with a report stating that Starbucks staff fetched water from the public restroom in the building's parking garage several times every day and used it to brew coffee.

5. Pizza Hut

When Shanghai Husi Food Co was shut down, Pizza Hut was also found in the list of chains that have been using the expired meat.

Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, said that they have halted buying meat products from the Shanghai supplier, and reiterated that they have zero tolerance for illegal behaviour in food safety.

The fast-food chain's Chongqing location last year has also been reported to serve customer 'expired food'. A woman bought one serving of fried rice only to find it not only to be the wrong order, but also a plate of cold food that was cooked four hours ago. The angry customer accused the famous chain to be 'indifferent toward customer's health'.

6. Wal-Mart

In June 2014, Beijing Food and Drug Administration published food safety information that asked sale of 11 foods to be stopped; of which three kinds of bamboo fungus/suns were found to contain excessive sub-cadmium sold in Wal-Mart. The company responded by saying that the bamboo fungus had been taken off shelves.

The sub-cadmium was not added by the products' manufactures but from polluted soil, water and air. Taking small amount of cadmium for a long term will cause damage to kidney and bone in human body.

In December 2013, "five spiced" donkey meat jerky sold in US retailer Wal-Mart in Jinan, Shandong province, was discovered to contain DNA of fox. Police had investigated the meat supplier Shandong Dezhou Fujude Food Ltd Co. All products from Dezhou had been taken off shelves in Wal-Mart.

Wal-Mart apologised to the public and announced to compensate their consumers. The food purchase and food safety regulation of the company needed to be strengthened.

7. Fonterra

Chinese consumers' passion for New Zealand's dairy products suffered a major hiccup in August last year. The loss in confidence followed a recall of tons of dairy powder products sold by New Zealand-based dairy producer Fonterra.

Tests had shown some of the products contained bacteria that can cause botulism. The contaminated whey products had been sold to third parties that use them to produce infant formula and sports drinks.

About 1,000 tonnes of consumer products were affected by the recall in seven countries. Four Chinese manufacturers; Dumex Baby Food Company, two subsidiaries of beverage manufacturer Wahaha Group, and Shanghai Sugar, Tobacco and Alcohol; had used the potentially contaminated products. Coca-Cola's Chinese subsidiary was also affected. China's food safety authorities ordered importers to recall any potentially infected products and blocked imports of all milk powder products from New Zealand.

8. Hero Nutradefence

In March 2013, China Central Television published a weekly quality report said that Netherlands imported infant formula powder Hero Nutradefence was suspected to be illegally produced by Xile Li'er Import and Export Co in Suzhou, China.

The Hero Nutradefence was made of unknown baby formula powder and milk powder that had expired. Xile Li'er also changed the production and expiration dates and repackaged them.

All products with "Nutradefence" label had to be taken off shelves in department stores as well as online stores.


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