A food scandal involving somewhat ancient chicken feet, some of which were 46 years old, is creating a stir among citizens across China.
Police in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region, said they had confiscated more than 20 metric tons of low-quality and long-expired chicken feet from a frozen meat warehouse this weekend.
Chicken feet, or fengzhao, are a popular delicacy. They are often served as a cold dish and eaten with beer.
One post criticizing the warehouse on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese site that is similar to Twitter, has been forwarded more than 6,000 times.
Netizens also coined a new term jiangshi fengzhao, or zombie chicken feet to vent their outrage, while others said sarcastically that they might “have a flavor of history”.
Most of the chicken feet were illegally imported from foreign countries into Guangxi’s border cities such as Fangchenggang, said Li Jianmin, deputy director of the public security detachment with Fangchenggang’s public security bureau.
“Some illegal businessmen will import uninspected frozen food, like chicken feet, and have them processed in local food workshops or small plants before selling them to vendors across China,” Li said.
The smuggled products contain lots of bacteria and blood. Importers, he added, usually soak them in hydrogen peroxide, a banned food addictive in the country, to extend the chicken feet’s shelf life and give them a healthy, bright appearance.
Li said those involved in the latest food scandal will be severely punished. Staff at Guangxi Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau said diseases, such as the H7N9 strain, can be transmitted in uninspected frozen foods because bacteria can live in low temperatures for a long period of time.
He added that the waste discharged from these workshops or plants also heavily pollutes the environment.
Since 2012, Fangchenggang police have busted seven cases involving illegally imported chicken feet that have a total value exceeding 20 million yuan ($3.3 million), according to official statistics.
These rampant underground businesses are merely trying to make a profit, adding that a ton of chicken feet would probably yield 15,000 yuan in profit.
Police in Fangchenggang and other border cities in Guangxi have recently tightened controls and inspections of imported goods.
They have also worked to quarantine illegal frozen foods. Any illegally imported food will be destroyed or returned to the exporter in accordance with the law.
Liu Xiaoling, a professor at the Light Industry and Food Engineering Department at Guangxi University, said the scandal is yet another indicator of the questionable food quality in the country.
The government, she added, should have stricter measures to avoid potential public health problems.
“China has formulated laws and regulations in the food industry, but they have yet to be improved,” she said.
Government bodies should do a better job of publicizing food safety information to make more people aware of the problems.
“The media should also keep a close eye on the government and on the food industry to improve China’s food safety,” Liu said.