China mulls new standard for bird’s nests

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food

China mulls new standard for bird’s nests
Stung by the recent contamination scandal in bird's nests imported from Malaysia, China has said that it will set a new safety standard for chemicals in the product.

According to the Ministry of Health, research is being made into setting a national standard for chemicals in edible bird's nests, including how much of sodium nitrite the product can contain.

The disclosure was first made by state-owned official newswire Xinhua, and was confirmed by an official at the ministry.

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.

China has never had a standard for sodium nitrite in bird's nests, though ministry rules require one kg of smoked or cured meat to not contain more than 30 mg of sodium nitrite.

The move was prompted by the contamination scandal that broke in August 2011 when the Zhejiang Provincial Administration for Industry and Commerce announced that excessive amounts of nitrite were found in edible bird's nests in the province.

The watchdog, the quality regulator for Zhenjiang province, 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.

Malaysia tightens safety standards

The Malaysian Health Ministry from then announced new regulation aimed increasing product safety, with the onus on 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. Since October 1, any such unit not registered with the health ministry can be fined up to 10,000 ringgits (US$5,000) for the violation.

Also, all edible bird's nests exported to China from October 1 are now to be certified as safe by it and the Veterinary Services Department, the ministry said.

In addition to the registration requirements, these units are now required to implement a food safety assurance system, choosing from 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.

They are the some of the most expensive food products in China, Hong Kong, and 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.

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