VOLUME 28 NO. 5 | JANUARY 24 - JANUARY 30, 2009

Boric acid and lye in your instant noodles?

Last updated 1-22-09 at 7:44 p.m.

BEIJING (AP) — Chinese regulators announced that they stepped up food safety inspections Jan. 19, right before the country’s biggest holiday, Lunar New Year, in continuing efforts to crack down on the poorly regulated manufacturing industry.

Inspectors will target supermarkets, restaurants, and food-additive–producing factories in seven provinces, including Hebei, the heart of last year’s melamine-tainted milk scandal, Health Ministry spokesman Mao Qun’an said.

“We’ll seriously check for illegal substances and additives in food and will severely punish companies or individuals who violate the law,” Mao said at a news conference.

The weeklong Lunar New Year holiday, also known as the Spring Festival, starts on Jan. 26 and is usually celebrated with family gatherings and sumptuous feasts.

The campaign is the latest step by China’s authorities to improve the country’s shoddy food safety record.

In December, the government released a list of banned substances in an attempt to weed out the practice of augmenting food products with nonfood additives.

Among the 17 banned substances was boric acid, commonly used as an insecticide, which is mixed with noodles and meatballs to increase elasticity. Other forbidden substances included industrial formaldehyde and lye, which are used in making soap and drain cleaner, and added to water used to soak some types of dried seafood to make the products appear fresher and bigger.

Various industrial dyes used to improve the appearance of food products, ranging from chili powder to tea to cooked meats, were also prohibited.

Even so, it’s an uphill task because of murky supply chains and numerous small and sometimes illegally operated establishments that are hard to monitor.

State media has said officially that there are about 500,000 food processors, and 70 percent have fewer than 10 employees.


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