In August this year, the Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce, the quality regulator for Zhenjiang province, announced that excessive amounts of nitrite were found in edible bird's nests in the province.
The watchdog added that the tested cubilose (another name for edible bird's nests) was not locally produced, but imported from Malaysia, and it posed a threat to consumers' health in China.
As a response, the Malaysian Health Ministry has announced new rules that require the owners of bird's nest processing units to register their businesses with the ministry before October 1.
Previously, such processing units were registered with local authorities but not the health ministry. After October 1, any such unit not registered with the health ministry would be fined up to 10,000 ringgits (US$5,000) for the violation.
In addition, all edible bird's nests exported to China from October 1 would have to be certified as safe by it and the Veterinary Services Department, the ministry said.
In addition to the registration requirements, these units would also be required to implement a food safety assurance system, choosing from either the Malaysia Food Safety Scheme (SK1M), Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) or Good Manufacturing Practice, all of which the ministry endorses.
If they fail to do so by the end if the year, they would be fined up to 10,000 ringgits, the health ministry said, adding that the free SK1M certification would be best for such units as it was designed to assist small and medium businesses.
Edible bird's nests are made of the secretion from the saliva glands of birds, and have been used in soup in China for centuries, on the basis of belief in their health benefits.
They are the some of the most expensive food products in China, Hong Kong, and even the US, where prices can reach up to US$10,000 per kg. Malaysia is the world's biggest exporter of bird's nests, and 95 per cent of them are sold to China.