Food testing & safety: From preserved eggs to imported food
Imported lime-preserved eggs, a Chinese cuisine ingredient, are available for purchase in Calgary and Canadian supermarkets like T&T and Superstores, etc. Recently Bloomberg News reported China Orders Crackdown on Toxic Additives Use in Preserved Eggs. Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) was contacted to provide more information about lime-preserved eggs testing for this story. First of all, here is an excerpt from the Bloomberg article,
“China ordered nationwide inspections of preserved-egg plants after media reports that toxic chemicals are being used as additives, the latest in a series of food scandals that have plagued the world’s most populous nation. […]
Authorities on June 14 shut 30 plants producing preserved eggs in Nanchang county of central Jiangxi province after state broadcaster China Central Television reported industrial copper sulphate was being used as an additive, state-run Chinanews.com reported.
Industrial copper sulphate, which contains arsenic, lead and cadmium, may cause kidney damage. Nanchang county produces 300,000 tons of eggs each year, making up 15% of China’s total, CCTV reported.“
Given most of the preserved eggs available for sale in Calgary (and Canada in general) are imported from China, the potential of toxic residues and risk of kidney damage to Canadians are worrisome.
Food testing by CFIA
After a week long email exchanges and clarification, Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) confirmed that no testing has been done with respect to lime-preserved eggs and “If the CFIA was concerned about suspected problems with this product, we would investigate using directed sampling and testing.” It is important to emphasize that “no testing” doesn’t mean “unsafe” but it does mean that CFIA (an independent Canadian government agency) has not conducted tests to verify safety.
CFIA stated its role is to enforce the safety and nutritional quality provisions of the Food and Drugs Act (FDA). In its replies, CFIA laid out the following determining factors that go into testing a product.
“The CFIA carries out both random and directed sampling and testing:
* random sampling and testing to identify trends and provide information on the occurrence and levels of contaminants in food.
* directed sampling and testing to investigate any suspected problems.
The CFIA determines areas of highest risk based on a number of factors, including:
* scientific analysis of potential hazards that can occur at particular points in production
*previously identified risks associated with specific products
* a company’s compliance history
* random sampling and testing that identifies levels of allergens and bacterial or chemical hazards in specific products.”
CFIA also stated,
“The role of the CFIA is to enforce federal regulations and verify that industry is meeting Canada’s food safety standards.
Testing is carried out on foods including what could be called “exotic” but as explained above, there are several determining factors that go into the decision to test a product. When a concern is brought to CFIA’s attention, CFIA will take action.”
Canada has become a more diverse and multi-cultural society in recent years and the taste buds of Canadians have widened, so Canadians are more willing to try imported specialty foods from countries around the world (China, Korea, Japan, countries in Africa, etc). Preserved eggs and its lack of testing should serve as a reminder to consumers not to expect full testing.
The fact that some products can be bought in Canadian stores should not imply “safety” automatically. In fact, if you have concerns with a food product, follow CFIA’s suggestion and bring your concerns to CFIA’s attention for it to take action.