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June 17, 2013

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Dangerous metals found in many preserved eggs

SHANGHAI food safety authorities said they are checking all preserved eggs from Jiangxi Province after some processors in Nanchang County were found to use dangerous chemicals.

Some plants in Nanchang, a major production area in Jiangxi, use large amounts of industrial copper sulfate to cut the two-month curing time in half, according to a CCTV report last Friday.

In reaction to the report, China's State Food and Drug Administration said yesterday that it has ordered nationwide checks for food companies processing preserved eggs with copper sulfate.

Industrial copper sulfate contains dangerous metals like lead, arsenic and cadmium and is never permitted as a food additive.

In China, edible copper sulfate has been allowed to make preserved eggs as a replacement for dangerous lead oxide since 2010.

The whites of preserved eggs, also known as "thousand-year" eggs, are dark brown and translucent while the yolk turns dark green, gray or black and creamy. The pungent eggs are traditional delicacies in China but favored by few expats.

The SFDA said companies violating regulations will have their production licenses suspended and be strictly punished. Those suspected of criminal behavior will be transferred to the police, according to the SFDA.

Nanchang officials are checking all local egg processing plants and had shut 30 plants by Saturday. The county processes 300,000 tons of eggs every year, up to 15 percent of the nation's supply.

Traditionally, fresh duck eggs are preserved with a mixture of clay, ash, salt, quicklime and rice hulls. A solution containing lead or copper is sometimes used for protein solidification.

Yan Wenqiang of the Shanghai Egg Industry Association said Shanghai has only two plants making preserved eggs and both passed checks last year.

Preserved eggs sold in local markets are mainly from Jiangsu, Zhejiang, Jiangxi and Hubei provinces, though the popularity of the summertime treat has been dipping for the past few years over contamination concerns.

After receiving tips, CCTV reporters visited some Nanchang egg processing plants and found at least three using industrial copper sulfate.

One plant owner claimed he used edible copper sulfate, but it turned out to be the industrial version after reporters called the copper sulfate producer in Shanghai.

There is no licensed edible copper sulfate producer in China's mainland, officials of State Food and Drug Administration told CCTV.

Preserved eggs received wide publicity in June 2011 when CNNGo ran a report from various "iReporters" describing their most challenging dining experiences. The preserved eggs topped a list of foods said to be the most disgusting in the world.


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