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Food safety network in shape

Updated: 2012-03-09 10:08

By Shan Juan (China Daily)

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A network to monitor and track food-borne diseases caused by pathogenic microorganisms will be set up, a senior food safety expert said.

These organisms, usually a bacteria or virus, are microscopic and can cause serious illnesses, diarrhea and, in extreme cases, even death. They thrive in unhygienic conditions and can be very resistant.

Yan Weixing, secretary-general of the safety committee under the China Food Safety Risk Assessment Center, told China Daily that many cases were not even reported.

Yan is also a CPPCC member.

"Those cases that have been reported are only the tip of the iceberg and the network will help detect, track, and issue alerts," he said.

Yan estimates that less than 5 percent of cases are reported.

The network, China Food Net, will connect supermarkets, food markets, restaurants and hospitals.

As soon as a case is reported, the network will track the supply chain and find out where the food originated from and where it may have been contaminated.

"It can also issue alerts on food safety for the public," he said.

China already has a national monitoring system with more than 300 sites throughout the mainland.

The system was launched in 2010 and mainly handles data for testing food safety, Yan said.

It can help detect major contaminants, which might vary regionally, and better target government efforts to ensure food safety, he said.

There have been reports in the media of incidents involving unsafe food but improvements have been made, Yan said.

"The general food safety situation in China is getting better. We test samples of food each year and most are up to standard and cases of food poisoning are very rare," he said.

Chemical contamination is also a major risk to food safety, he said.

"These cases are well publicized," he said. But scandals such as melamine-contaminated milk powder, are in a different category than food contaminated by bacteria or viruses.

At least six babies died after consuming tainted formula in 2008 and hundreds were sent to hospital.

"This is adulteration and it is a serious crime," he said.

To date, nearly all of the severe or lethal food-related cases reported were in this category, he added.

He also confirmed that testing methods for gutter oil are being assessed and results will be issued in two months. Gutter oil is the generic term for cooking oil that has been used and then resold.

Starting from December, the Ministry of Health and the China Food Safety Risk Assessment Center began to test methods to detect gutter oil.

The process in separating various components of the oil is difficult but progress has been made, he said.