Food Sentry, the American food inspection analyst, had researched nearly 1,000 reported food violations across 73 countries by lab testing foreign-sourced products. After that study found China had the most incidents, a second, more in-depth analysis focused on all contaminated products reported as Chinese in origin over a 15-month period.
“Any walk through a grocery store will turn up literally hundreds of items from China,” said Scott Witt, Food Sentry’s COO. “Chinese foods get a lot of bad press, so it’s worth taking a look at some hard data to see what we can learn.”
Pesticides were the number one problem, with 32 distinct pesticides found in Chinese foods, mostly in produce, fruit and spices. In one instance, a cumin sample had six different pesticides (acetamiprid, carbendazim, profenofos, cypermethrin, hexaconazole and Ethion) detected at violative concentrations in laboratory testing.
Seafood was particularly affected by antibiotics were a particular problem with seafood from China, with multiple instances of leuco-malachite green (a metabolite of malachite green), enrofloxacin and ciprofloxacin (fluoroquinolone drugs), and sulfamethoxazole (a sulfonamide drug) contamination.
Variouschemicals were detected in excess of approved amounts, including sulfur dioxide, other various unspecified sulfites, formaldehyde, coloring dyes, and sodium saccharine. Most concerning was the detection of sodium hydroxide in milk. Also known as caustic soda or lye, the chemical is used to regulate acidity in foods.
Toxic metal contamination was found across a wide range of products, although not in a large number of samples. Excessive lead was found in kelp and cinnamon, cadmium in cinnamon, bamboo pith and crab, and mercury in infant formula. The US FDA does not routinely test imports for toxic metals, except mercury.
The study also found that economically motivated adulteration—the intentional adulteration of a food for economic gain—continues to be an issue in China. Examples of this included counterfeit eggs that were man-made from various substances and chemicals, synthetic shark fin, synthetic abalone and counterfeit peanut oil made from other oils.
Overall, Chinese seafood represents the highest risk group, although Food Sentry cannot precisely the quantity of exports that might be contaminated.
“Our caution is based on the fact that very little of the total import amount is actually inspected and tested, and the results from foreign laboratories that do test demonstrate some persistent level of contamination across a range of products,” said the report.