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January 19, 2011

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Food safety checks to go high-tech

SHANGHAI will apply more high-tech approaches to testing and supervising food safety in the city through the local government's new initiatives to strengthen the local food health risk assessment and warning and supervision systems, a leading official with Shanghai Food and Drug Administration told Shanghai Daily yesterday.

As part of the initiatives, Shanghai is now developing a testing method to check how many times cooking oil is used at eateries in order to regulate the number of times that the oil can be safely used - those violating the rule will be punished in the future. Frequently reused cooking oil can contain cancer-causing elements and damage people's health.

"This year, we will make great efforts to upgrade food quality assessment, analysis and risk warning methods and also take action to integrate different watchdog forces to raise inspection power and efficiency," said Wang Longxing, chief of the local FDA.

In an interview with Shanghai Daily, he commented on the issue of "sewage oil," - oil that is collected from drains to be used again.

"By raising government purchase prices for restaurants' used oils and more intensive checks by watchdogs, there is now nearly no risk of food being prepared with sewage oil at local restaurants," Wang said.

"However, there are still risks caused by eateries making multiple use of oil in order to cut costs."

He said research has already begun to work out testing methods for detecting kitchen oils which had been used before. "When it's technically possible, we will set the standards for how many times oil is allowed to be used and stop restaurants from using oil too many times," he added.

He said the government also intends to increase investment to support and organize experts and professionals this year to improve food safety assessment and inspection systems.

Priority will be placed on daily necessity foods such as oils and rice, as well as others where the public has raised questions about its safety.

Results of assessments will be announced to the public as well as timely risk warnings, Wang said.

Food safety supervision has largely improved from five years ago in Shanghai and foods that are locally supplied and produced are "mostly safe" and covered by routine -inspections, he said.

"However, the major threat to local food safety is the large amount of food coming from outside of Shanghai every day," Wang stressed. "So there is still room for a great deal of improvement in Shanghai to beef up the supervision methods to spot any inferior foods quickly."

The local FDA will also enhance the food origin tracing system across the city this year, Wang said. The practice to have the origins, production and processing localities of the foods made available for checks by using electronic tags has started on a small scale in the city.

"This year, we will have more supermarkets and other food markets covered by the origin tracing system," he said.


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