This week brought another food safety woe for China when investigations found that some bleaching agents widely used in flour production contained as much as 30 percent pulverized lime.  

Limestone is typically used in architecture in the United States and Europe.  Pulverized lime is an inedible ingredient and when ingested, can lead to gradual damage of the lungs and eventually the entire respiratory system.  

The bleaching agent in question is produced by the Yuzhong Food Additive Company in Rugao in East China’s Jiangsu province.  Original reports were released in Legal Weekend, a publication under the official Legal Daily, which is a People’s Republic of China state-owned newspaper.  Concerned local insiders gave the information to the media for fear that the material was a serious public health threat.

Following the release, reporters collected samples from the company and conducted follow-up tests on the materials.  Tests confirmed that as much as 30 percent of pulverized lime is used in the bleaching agent.

Usually made from cornstarch, bleaching agents are added to flour to shorten the time needed for whitening.  By adding cheaper and heavier lime instead of cornstarch, the company cut the cost of production of the bleaching agent, which is sold by weight.

According to Reuters, the owner of the company, surnamed Chen, was cited as saying that his company was able to sell the bleaching agent at 9,000 yuan ($1,319) per ton, versus the market price of 11,000 yuan.

A local insider told the China Daily that, “Before the Spring Festival this year, the company purchased four trucks’ worth of pulverized lime, with each truck carrying 40 tons.  An average of 1 jin (0.5 kg) of pulverized lime was added to every 4 jin of the bleaching agent.”

In metric measurements, the company added 500 g (or 1.1 lbs) of pulverized like to every 2 kg of bleaching agent.  This information was provided by whistle blowers in the company to the Legal Daily.

The company sold these contaminated bleaching agents to four large mills in Jiangsu and neighboring Shandong and Anhui provinces.  Flour is mostly made to make noodles, dumplings, and steamed buns especially in the north of China.