Because of criminally lax food and drug regulations, Chinese consumers risk disease or poisoning, even when doing something as simple as buying cooking oil from a supermarket or getting a vaccination for their kids.
Many restaurants and food producers in China lace their products with dangerous chemicals, as described in the following examples, from carcinogenic formaldehyde in seafood to addictive opiates in noodles.
Baking Powder—With Heavy Metal
Steamed buns are a typical feature in Chinese cuisine, and are particularly tasty right out of the pot, when they are fresh and fluffy.
To keep the buns from taking on a cardboard-like staleness, a restaurant in inland China’s Shaanxi Province found an answer in a special baking powder that could preserve the desired fluffy texture cheaply.
Unfortunately, the substance also includes aluminum, a heavy metal that causes severe damage to the bones and nerves as deposits build up in the body. It also causes memory loss and Alzheimer’s Disease, China’s Food and DRug Administration reported.
The substance was banned in 2014, but the shop owner, Mr. Tang, continued using the powder in his buns for nearly two years until April 2016, when he was arrested.
Shrimp Soaked in Formaldehyde
Shrimp can be tough to peel, and, like seafood in general, goes bad quickly.
Concerned only with the immediate marketability of their product, suppliers in eastern China’s Shandong Province have been widely applying formaldehyde solutions to their shrimp, the local Qingdao Daily reported last September.
The solution makes shrimp appear whiter, last longer, and easier to peel. It’s known to have been in use in Chinese seafood since 2002, despite the fact that it causes nose, throat, and colon cancer.
Normal uses of formaldehyde include finishing for building materials and for the preservation of animal specimens.
“Some parts [of the shrimp] require the use of the chemical,” one merchant told the Qingdao Daily.
In 2011, a chemist told Shandong’s Bandao Metropolis Daily that formaldehyde could be used to indefinitely extend the shelf life of cuttlefish while maintaining its fresh color and shape.
Opium has had a long and and destructive history in modern China, having once claimed millions of addicts. More recently, some Chinese noodle shops have taken to lacing their food with poppy seeds to induce dependency in their customers.
In August 2015, a Mr. Wang in Chengdu, southwestern China, was preparing for military service. Having eaten a bowl of noodles on the day he was to take a urine test, he was surprised to find that his test showed him to be morphine positive, the Beijing news reported.
The report went on to describe how almost 80 cases of restaurants putting opiates in their customers’ food were reported across 19 provinces between 2011 and 2015.
According to Lu Lin, head of Peking University’s Drug Dependence Research Institute, several meals of poppy-laced food can lead to addiction.
Carcinogenic Tofu Bleach
Tofu skin, known as “fuzhu” in Chinese, is a popular food in China. It has a unique texture and is often eaten as a cold dish or braised in soy sauce.
It’s also another candidate for dangerous additive chemicals. In 2013, the Douqing brand of fuzhu was found to be laced with rongalite, a dangerous carcinogen to make it appear whiter, fresher, and improve its elastic texture.
The gases produced by rongalite can cause headaches, lethargy, and lead to nose and throat cancer.
Reports by Strait Metropolis Daily in the province of Fujian said that last September, a noodle shop in the city of Shishi was adding sodium borate to its wares.
Sodium borate, also known as borax, was once a popular addition to many foods, but was banned in China after it was determined to be a toxic substance that can be fatal if allowed to build up in the body. Victims may suffer vomiting, diarrhea, or even lapse into comas. Twenty grams is deadly to an adult, five can kill an infant.
The Shishi noodle shop was found to adding borax to its noodles since 2014. At a rough production rate of 300 pounds a day, they used a total of at least 50 pounds of borax.