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Wal-Mart caught in food safety scandal in Shenzhen

2014-08-11 08:46 Global Times Web Editor: Qin Dexing

Staff videotaped using expired meat to make food, not replacing cooking oil

An unnamed employee at a Wal-Mart store in Shenzhen, South China's Guangdong Province, has claimed that the outlet has been using expired meat to cook prepared food for consumers, media reported over the weekend.

According to a video on the Internet, which was taken by the whistle-blower, who reportedly has worked in the store for over eight years, the Shenzhen Wal-Mart store has been using expired meat to make prepared food and does not replace the old cooking oil used for fried food as stipulated - sometimes the oil is not changed for over 15 days.

Sometimes, the cooking oil for fried foods is so old that the color has turned "as black as soy sauce," said the employee in a voiceover in the video.

Other problems include using rice infested with insects to cook food, according to the video.

An employee at the Shenzhen store told the Global Times on Sunday that people from Wal-Mart China's headquarters and the local quality authorities have been making spot checks at the store during the past few days.

Wal-Mart China said in a statement e-mailed to the Global Times on Sunday that the company had "sent an investigation team to the store, and no such irregularities were found so far."

The firm had also invited a third party to make quality checks in Wal-Mart stores every month, the statement said, adding that it does not tolerate any irregularities.

A manager surnamed Liu at the Shenzhen store also denied the old cooking oil accusations during an interview in a report on a local TV station.

The Shenzhen quality authority is currently looking into the matter but no concrete conclusion has been drawn so far, Guangzhou-based newspaper New Express reported on Saturday.

The Shenzhen quality authority was not available for comment on Sunday as it was outside of regular office hours.

The Wal-Mart case is the newest example of China's food safety problem, which has intensified with a slew of scandals involving foreign multinational corporations in recent years.

The China branch of US food provider OSI Group, Shanghai Husi Food Co Ltd, was found in July to have provided food containing expired materials to its customers such as McDonald's. Also, fast-food chain KFC, which was also involved in the Husi scandal, reportedly provided ice cubes made using "water that is dirtier than toilet water" in July 2013.

Wang Danqing, a partner at Beijing-based ACME Consultancy, noted that the food safety problem remains a "pressing" issue in China.

The media plays an increasingly important role in supervising food safety at present, as both of the reported Wal-Mart safety scandals as well as the Husi scandal were first revealed by the media, he noted.

This is not the first time that Wal-Mart has been involved in similar scandals in China. In December 2013, media reported a Wal-Mart store in East China's Shandong Province mixed fox meat into the donkey meat that was sold in the store.

In 2011, a Wal-Mart store in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality was fined over 340,000 yuan ($55,235) for selling expired duck meat.

Similar safety problems also exist in other major retailers. A supermarket operated by China Resource Vanguard in Shandong Province was also found selling expired food, according to a report on news portal health.sina.com.cn on Tuesday.

Liu Xinwu, a food safety lawyer at Jiangsu-based Hengjiu Law Firm, told the Global Times Sunday that if the accusations against the Shenzhen Wal-Mart store were confirmed, the company may be fined or ordered to suspend operations for rectification.

Xiao Qiang, a Beijing resident in his 40s, told the Global Times Sunday that he will not buy any prepared food from Wal-Mart in the short term.

"If the Shenzhen store is selling expired food, such irregularities may also exist in Wal-Mart's Beijing stores," Xiao said,

Wang from ACME Consultancy noted that such news may dent Wal-Mart sales in the short term, but in the long run, the impact will be limited.

"It [the safety scandal] has presented an opportunity for Wal-Mart to improve its services in China," Wang noted.

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