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Chemicals in Soup China’s Latest Food Scare

Chinese media let another food scandal out of the bag last week. This time the health culprit is popular hotpot dishes that are often tainted with harmful chemical additives, according to China’s Global Times.

“Eighty percent of hotpots served at (restaurants) contain such chemical additives,” Wang, a chef who recently quit from a hotpot restaurant over his guilt, told the Anhui Business Daily last week.

Additives tainting the hotpots include cheap unknown chemicals “simulating flavored powder,” which can also contain traces of poppy and heavy metals like arsenic and lead.  According to The Global Times, a hotpot broth made with ‘natural materials’ would cost about 26 yuan per serving.  Soup base made with alternative chemical additives might cost a restaurant only .5 yuan.

Exactly how widely unsafe chemicals are employed in hotpot broth is unknown. Chinese authorities do not inspect or target the quality or content of raw materials or ingredients in the restaurant business.

“It’s almost an open secret that chemical additives are added in hotpots,” food safety lawyer Sang Liwei, told the Global Times. “However, there lacks an explicit standard governing what ingredients can be used in what quantity.”

“It seemed that media organizations are the forerunners of uncovering food-safety scandals, and the watchdogs are lagging behind,” added Liwei.

China has struggled with a series of high profile food scandals in the past few years. mOver the summer, newspapers revealed that carcinogenic recycled cooking oil, known as “gutter oil,” was widely used in restaurants.  Last Spring, Chinese authorities struggled with pesticide-laden string beans, lead candy recalls, and the re-emergence of melamine-tainted dairy products, which were apparently never fully removed from the marketplace after a 2008 scandal that sickened 300,000 and killed six infants. 

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