BEIJING / SHANGHAI - The panic buying of salt in China triggered by fears about radiation exposure following the nuclear leak in Japan had eased by Sunday after the government reassured people the country was not in danger and explained that salt would not help protect them anyway.
The Ministry of Commerce said in a statement on Sunday that "the panic buying of salt has stopped and the market is back to normal".
The ministry also said that, as of Saturday, the country's salt inventory was abundant.
In Beijing, the sales of salt on Saturday declined by 46 percent from a day earlier.
On Thursday and Friday, people were lining up and even jostling for salt in supermarkets in the capital. On Sunday, the shelves were fully stocked and there were no panicked buyers in sight.
Shanghai municipal commission of commerce also said in a statement on Saturday that the sales and supply of salt in that city had returned to normal, according to a survey of more than 200 supermarkets and convenience stores.
By Saturday, some consumers who had realized that the hoarding of salt would not be useful in countering a leak of nuclear radiation had started to return to supermarkets to try to get their money back.
China Central Television reported that a 60-year old woman in Shanghai bought more than 50 packs of salt from a supermarket in Fengxian district on Thursday. She went back to the store hoping to return the salt the next day after she heard that there was no need to hoard the product. The store did not want to give her money back but relented after she threatened to call the police.
A supermarket manager in Beijing was quoted as saying by Beijing Youth Daily that his store had turned away angry customers and their bags of salt.
"The national regulations on the return of food are very strict," said the unnamed manager. "No refunds will be allowed unless there is a quality problem."
Similar "refund rushes" were playing out in Sichuan, Zhejiang and Guangdong provinces, the newspaper said.
The rush to buy salt started on Wednesday when rumors began to circulate that the salt supply in future would be compromised because of the contamination of the ocean following the nuclear leak in Japan after the earthquake and tsunami there.
People also believed that ionized salt could protect them against radiation.
By Thursday, panicked customers had emptied supermarket shelves in Zhejiang, Guangdong, Jiangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan, Jiangsu and Hubei provinces as well as the municipalities of Beijing and Chongqing.
China National Salt Industry Corporation, the country's largest salt maker, said on Thursday it had ample reserves to meet people's needs and stressed that panic buying and hoarding was unnecessary.
The Ministry of Commerce also released a statement on Friday reiterating that the country's salt reserves were "quite substantial".
China is able to produce more than 80 million tons of salt a year but the country's consumption of edible salt is only about 8 million tons.
The statement said salt producers usually hold stocks of salt that can last three months.