Fake Jellyfish and Other (Fake) Chinese Delicacies
The latest scandal highlights China's long history of lax food safety standards.
In the latest of many recent scandals involving the food industry in China, police in Zhejiang province raided two fake jellyfish workshops that sold an estimated 10 tons to local food markets,
. The fake jellyfish was made using three chemicals, alginic acid, ammonium alum and calcium chloride anhydrous. The particularly high levels of aluminum detected in the fradulent food are especially concerning given that too much can result in bone and nerve damage and is especially harmful to pregnant women, children and the elderly. Jellyfish served sliced in salads in Chinese dishes, but demand far exceeds supply, which creates an opening for perfidious producers. Artificial jellyfish is also cheaper and takes far less time to produce than the genuine article. China is a country with a long and rich culinary tradition, but its food safety standards leave much to be desired, as you'll soon find out in this slideshow.
Undoubtedly that largest and most devastating food scandal out of China emerged in 2008 following revelations that Chinese milk and baby formula had been adulterated with melamine in order to pass nutrition tests. Melamine in large quantities can cause kidney stones or even kidney failure. Nearly 300,000 babies fell ill due to the tainted milk powder,
. More than 54,000 infants were hospitalized, and six died from the tainted milk. News of the contaminated milk products led dozens of countries to impose bans or extra inspections of Chinese-made food products.
Rice has long been a staple cereal grain not only in China but throughout Asia and other parts of the world. There are many different varieties of rice that find their way into various dishes. One type of rice, however, appears to grow only in China, and this particular variety happens to be made of plastic. In 2011,
out of Singapore that Chinese companies were mass producing rice made of potatoes and plastic. One outlet noted that eating three bowls of the fake rice would be like eating a plastic bag.
When is an egg not an egg? Answer: When it comes from a box instead of a bird. As with the fake rice, unscrupulous Chinese food producers have found a way to create counterfeit eggs partly out of plastic, as well as resin, sodium alginate, gypsum powder and calcium carbonate,
. The counterfeit eggs first began circulating in China in the 1990s and periodically reemerge. The fake eggs entice buyers because they are of course cheaper than the real thing. Production costs are also half that of a real egg, and a single person can produce as many as 1,500 fake eggs per day without ever having to go anywhere near a chicken coop.
Like eggs, walnuts are a hard food to fake. They come with their own container after all that should preserve the integrity of the ingredients inside. But at least one vendor in Zhengzhou city in Henan province found a way. Using discarded walnut husks, the scammer filled the shell with concrete and paper and then glued it back together again.
, the ruse allows the fraudster to double his sales by selling both the fake nuts and real nutmeat separately.
In 2013, police in China arrests 904 individuals for "meat-related offenses." What exactly constitutes such a crime? How about passing off fox, mink and rat meat as mutton? Authorities seized a total of 20,000 tons of illegal meat. The case was not simply about meat being mislabeled; the food sold was often diseased or toxic.
, police seized nearly half a billion dollars worth of frozen, rotting meat, some of it more than 40 years old. Perhaps because the meat was already well past its expiration date, the scammer didn't even bother to transport the goods in refriderated trucks in order to cut down on costs. Although clearly not fit for human consumption, the more than 100,000 tons of chicken, beef and pork was the genuine article.
Gutter oil. The phrase alone doesn't sound very appetizing, and it's a fittingly disgusting name to describe its origins. Cooking oil is used in preparing many different Chinese dishes. Rather than discarding the excess oil after use, black market merchants recycle the old oil, pool it together and sell it to street vendors and restaurant merchants as new. The gutter oil is cheaper than the fresher stuff, but can cause eater to become extremely ill. Where exactly do you go to collect gutter oil? From gutters, of course! But also dumpters, trash cans and even sewers,
Finding a hair in your food would repulse anyone. But what if your food were made with hair? In 2004, China Central Television (CCTV) raised concerns about a domestic soy sauce supplier that was adultering its products with human hair. Piles of hair were found at the workshop in China's Hubei province,
. Hair is rich in protein, which may be why it was used as a filler. The report was never independently verified, so it's possible the story was just a hoax.
As China's middle class grows in size and in wealth, they have developed a taste for certain Western products, including alcohol brands. But in some stores and bars in China, what's on the label is not necessarily what's being served. An estimated 30 percent of all alcohol in China is fake,
. Fake alcohol is generally made illegally and cheaply, often in bathtubs or similarly scummy settings. Discarded bottles of higher-end brands are refilled and resold, with the consumer often unaware of the counterfeit contents. Because the imitation hooch isn't necessarily always alcohol -- toxic chemicals and other ingredients are often mixed in -- drinkers face potentially serious health consequences in the short and long term, ranging from stomach ailiments to blindness and even death.
Perhaps to illustrate just how little the food industry is trusted in China, we close with a fake story about fake food. In 2007, a Chinese reporter alleged that one producer of China's most popular breakfast foods, steamed dumplings, were being made with cardboard. The report led to a series of investigations by other media outlets as well as the Chinese government, who determined that the report was all a hoax,
. The offending freelance journalist was arrested and sentenced to a year in jail.