Pulling a Fast One on Fast Food
Food safety scandal involving Shanghai Husi Food invokes calls for stronger oversight
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UPDATED: August 4, 2014 NO. 32 AUGUST 7, 2014
Food Scandal Intolerable

On July 20, the public was appalled as a disturbing scene aired over the nightly TV news broadcast and on the Internet: Workers reprocessing long-expired meat into products at Shanghai Husi Food Co. Ltd., owned by the U.S.-based OSI Group, were caught red-handed by undercover reporters.

It was later revealed that the company had forged production dates on at least 4,300 cases of smoked beef patties. The dates were altered to January 2014 from May 2013. Among them, more than 3,000 cases—each weighing 7.2 kg—had already been sold. More tainted food from the company was sent out to be sampled.

As Husi supplied products to many fast food brands, the food safety scandal has had repercussions across the country. Many brands—including McDonald's, KFC, Pizza Hut and Starbucks—have involuntarily and unwittingly been tangled up in this incident.

Since the report aired, the U.S.-based OSI Group has withdrawn all products made by Shanghai Husi from the market. Sheldon Lavin, Chief Executive of the OSI Group, issued a formal apology and admitted that what had happened was "terribly wrong." The group said it is conducting a thorough internal investigation and will take swift and decisive action against those responsible.

Chinese consumers have long held a fondness for and trust in foreign names, due in part to the frequency of food safety scandals that have rocked the nation in recent years. Multinational food companies have taken advantage of this trust and made a fortune. This favorable reputation, however, does not excuse negligence in ensuring the safety of their products.

Food safety is a vitally important issue that concerns both public health and people's livelihoods. Government departments should strictly supervise the safety control at food-based enterprises and at every step along the supply chain. More stringent legislation on food safety standards should also be put into place, as the current law and regulations are not effective enough in promoting safe practices, enforcing truly punitive penalties, and effectively deterring offenders. If the punishments for wrongdoers in the field of food safety were more severe, violators might be more wary of the consequences before taking risks.

Besides vowing a thorough investigation and punishments for the misconduct, the OSI Group said it would invest 10 million yuan ($1.62 million) into a three-year food safety education campaign in China and establish an Asia Quality Control Center. Apparently, the group does not want to lose the huge Chinese market, but reclaiming the respect and trust of local customers might be a long uphill battle.

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