10 of China's Worst Food Scandals in 2017

By That's, December 27, 2017

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201712/year-in-review-logo.jpgThose of us living in China might have been spared the tumultuous drama that our US counterparts have experienced in 2017, but like always, the Middle Kingdom has had its own fair share of attention-grabbing headlines. From the boom of shared bikes to a presidential visit from The Donald, our team has put together a list of 2017’s most unforgettable viral stories, recounting major events that defined the worlds of sports, tech, arts, fashion and food. Here’s to another year of eclectic, weird and wonderful life in China, we wouldn’t have it any other way. 

For more, follow our full 2017 Year in Review coverage. 

From 'fake water' to expired flour, we've listed some of China's biggest food and drink safety scandals of 2017.

10. Couple Busted Making Fake Salt in Guangzhou

Couple Busted Making Fake Salt in Guangzhou
In June, police busted a husband-and-wife salt-selling operation in Guangzhou's Baiyun District. The couple was reportedly buying industrial salt in bulk, repackaging it as 'Yueyan'-brand iodized table salt and selling the final product both wholesale and retail. Baiyun District police seized the couple, who are now being detained, and confiscated close to a ton of repackaged fake salt, found stored in 48 cases. In the rooms where the husband-wife team had worked, police also found 1.5 additional tons of industrial salt, plus the equipment and packaging the couple had been using.

9. Several Shanghai Restaurants Busted for Selling Unsafe Youtiao

Several Shanghai restaurants were raided by officials from the Shanghai Consumer Council (SCC) during a December spot check on venues selling youtiao, fried dough sticks that are a popular breakfast food. The tests, conducted across 29 samples and 25 food brands, showed that some popular restaurants and fast-food chains were serving unhealthy and even dangerous youtiao. The results revealed that the restaurants were serving youtiao with excessive levels of aluminium residue, polar components and saturated fat. Five restaurants were shut down by the city's Food and Drug Administration for not having business licenses, while five others were ordered to meet food and health standards.

8. Three People Arrested for Reusing Oil at Guangzhou Hot Pot Eatery

3 Arrested for Reusing Oil at Guangzhou Hot Pot Eatery
In August, the owner of a Guangzhou hot pot restaurant was detained for illicitly reprocessing used cooking oil. Authorities also arrested the restaurant’s manager, surnamed He, and chef, surnamed Huo, for producing and selling “so-called gutter oil.” Staff at the restaurant saved and then boiled leftover broth, before mixing it with new oil and serving it to customers (yuck!). According to a story by the Yangcheng Evening News, the owner, surnamed Tan, specifically hired Chef Huo because of his tendency to reuse oil. During interrogation, Huo told police that he recycled the oil once a week, processing 10 kilograms each time.

7. RMB37 Million Worth of Meat Seized in Shenzhen

Fake Meat
In April, Shenzhen authorities seized RMB37 million worth of suspicious frozen meat. Shenzhen border officers discovered the meat, which included chicken wings and feet, as well as pork products, which had not been quarantined or declared. The ship that was busted smuggling the meat aroused suspicion after authorities discovered it was using another vessel’s name and identification. Authorities searching the vessel reportedly discovered the illicit meat, which all-told weighed in at 630 tones, inside 24 air-conditioned containers. 

6. Multiple Food Scandals Rock South China in the Spring

Multiple Food Scandals Rock South China
A series of food scandals made headlines in Guangdong in April and May, from moldy raisins sold at the popular AEON supermarket chain to pig blood injected with formaldehyde at a factory outside of Shenzhen. Moldy raisins and candied winter melon were pulled from the shelves and the factory producing formaldehyde pig blood was forced to close, with health management officials pledgng to monitor pig blood production more closely going forward. 

5. Beijing's Haidilao Outlets Strictly Inspected Following Hygiene Scandal

The Beijing Food and Drug Administration forced Haidilao restaurants around the capital to undergo a series of inspections following the chain’s sanitation scandal in August. Videos taken at two Haidilao restaurants in Beijing showed that the outlets were operating under extremely unhygienic conditions. The footage showed rats in the kitchen, a dishwasher lined with residue and an employee unblocking a clogged sewage pipe using a ladle. 

4. Farine's Expired Flour Scandal

Farine Expired Flour Scandal
Popular Shanghai bakery Farine was shut down in March following a highly publicized expired flour scandal. The incident first unfolded after a former employee published his bombshell allegations on Weibo. In the post, he claimed to be an ex-employee of Farine, and mentioned founder Franck Pécol by name. An accompanying video appeared to show product labels with an expiry date of December 2016. The video also showed what appeared to be mold-infested flour baskets near the front of the store, though it is unclear whether these were for use in the bakery. Further allegations included baked products being stored on mold-covered cloths, staff seiving out mold from raw flour and claims of live rats in the store. 

Eight people were detained in police custody following an investigation into the company's warehouses and stores; and four employees were later arrested by Minhang district prosecutors. They were identified as production director and French citizen Laurent Daniel Fortin, and three Chinese nationals: Xin Xiangrong, Hu Jun and Lu Jiajian. They were accused of using expired flour at the company's Minhang factory, which was used in breads supplied to the bakery's outlets at Wukang LuIFC MallHubin Dao and Huashan Lu between December 2016 and March 2017. Fortin remains in prison.

All Farine branches were closed following the investigation, and their listings removed from local listing site Dianping. The rest of the Franck empire — including Pécol's namesake restaurant Franck BistrotGrains (which also houses WIYF), Rachel's and Far-West — soon followed. (Franck Bistrot later reopened, with the "Franck" name completely removed from the restaurant). 

In March, Shanghai's Food and Drug Administration increased the reward for 'whistle blowers' tipping authorities off to food safety incidents to a maximum of RMB300,000.

3. Man Busted for Selling 'Fake Water' in Shanghai

Fake water
In July, a man (surnamed Zhang) was accused of selling more than RMB150,000 worth of counterfeit water in Shanghai. Police caught him during a raid of his workshop in Songjiang district, where they seized more than 300 barrels of water. 

Unfortunately this wasn't the first instance of "fake water" in the 'Hai. Earlier this year, our sister site Urban Family reported that a family was dismayed to discover fake Nestle water being delivered to their home. The water was delivered by Galaxy Water Station (银河水站), run by a local couple who claimed to be distributing Nestle water and supposedly supplied to large complexes, including One Park Avenue in Jing'an.

2. Rotting Pig Carcasses Turned Into Oil in Guangzhou

Rotting Pig Carcasses Turned Into Oil in Guangzhou
In July, workers at a Guangzhou factory were arrested after it was revealed that they had been boiling “dead, stinking pigs” to extract oil and then packaging the oil immediately and shipping it off to other warehouses, possibly to be used in cooking. The factory in question was discovered in Zengcheng District on an otherwise picturesque mountain road beside plenty of "fish ponds and backyard dogs." The location was allegedly chosen for its naturally private surroundings, which helped conceal the illegal production line. When journalists arrived to the site ahead of the arrests, they found a male worker taking bags of fetid meat and dumping them into a tub of boiling liquid. A layer of white foam was visible on top, while charred chunks of black meat occasionally surfaced. According to the report, the stench rising from the pot was even worse than that of the pig carcasses themselves. A police report after the arrests later confirmed the refinery had no license. The case was put under investigation.

1. 13 People Poisoned by Fake Alcohol in South China, with Four Sent to ICU

13 Poisoned by Fake Alcohol in South China, 4 Sent to ICU
In late November, 13 people were diagnosed with methanol poisoning after drinking fake whiskey at a Muse Bar in Heyuan, Guangdong province. Of those, four were admitted to the ICU, with three of them unconcious for several days. Meanwhile, police closed the bar and detained four people under suspicion of producing and selling the toxic brews Flylion and Faliya. According to the suspects, the drinks came from outside of the city. A total 190 cases of the two whiskeys were seized at the Heyuan club, as well as Muse bars in Shenzhen and Huizhou. The phony brands were also found to have been sold in Henan, Hainan, Guizhou and Yunnan provinces, mainly at bars.

(Dis)honorable Mention

Popular Shanghai Milk Tea Shop Shuts Down After Cockroach Scandal

Popular Shanghai Milk Tea Shop Shuts Down After Cockroach Scandal
A branch of popular milk tea chain Yi Dian Dian suspended operations in November due to a cockroach scandal. The scandal first unfolded on November 11, when a customer ordered a black Macchiato tea from an outlet near East China Normal University through the food delivery site ele.me. The customer claimed to have found a cockroach in their cup after finishing half of the drink. The customer said it was "extremely disgusting," posted pictures online depicting the tea with the cockroach and demanded RMB50,000 in compensation.

Shanghai 'Milkman' Scams Clients

Sour Milk: Shanghai 'Milkman' Scams ClientsIn January, a Shanghai resident was arrested for posing as a milkman, collecting up to RMB1,000 per client and then running off before delivering the boxed milk. The man, surnamed Wang, milked a total of RMB10,000 from his clients before being reprimanded by police. Wang must have been a fast talker, as police claim he didn’t make an effort to even dress like a milkman. He would instead tell his clients that he was “a long time employee who doesn’t have to wear [a uniform].” How dairy!

14,000 Fake Bottles of Wine Seized in Shanghai and Xiamen

 14,000 Fake Bottles of Wine Seized in Shanghai and Xiamen
In November, police confiscated 14,000 bottles of fake Australian wine during a raid on three warehouses in Shanghai and Xiamen, arresting six people in the process. The counterfeiters were caught reproducing and selling fake Penfolds wine, a famous Australian brand, online at a third of the actual Penfolds market price. While tests showed that the fake wine did not have detrimental heath effects, it was still said to be of inferior quality.

Popular Dim Sum Chain Shut Down Over Food Safety Concerns in Shanghai

Popular Dim Sum Chain Shut Down Over Food Safety Concerns in Shanghai
Nine branches as well as the central kitchen of the Shanghai-based, Hong Kong-style chain LIST (known as 一笼小确幸 in Chinese) were shut down in July after diners who had eaten at some of the restaurants complained of stomach problems. Several users reported problems online after eating at up to four of the restaurants, with various symptoms including fever, vomitting and the stomach flu.

China's Temporary Cheese Ban

China's Temporary Cheese Ban
While it wasn't a food safety scandal, news of a ban on certain cheese imports sent China's cheese-loving community into a collective meltdown back in September. Luckily the ban was short-lived, and following the temporary munstrosity, the restrictions were lifted a month later.

For more 2017 Year in Review coverage, click here.

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