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September 16, 2019

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Freshen up food safety with threat of large fines

Grocery retail chain Freshippo came under fire twice last month, and it was embroiled in serial food scandals late last year.

Freshippo has been found to have had food irregularities more than 20 times since 2018 based on information on the official website of the Shanghai Administration for Market Regulation, the city’s market watchdog.

In the worst case, it was fined 50,000 yuan (US$7,029).

Such punishments are obviously not effective. According to relevant China’s food safety law, food businesses caught selling expired food, food with expired materials or additives face fines between 50,000 to 100,000 yuan if the product value is less than 10,000 yuan and when this is not a criminal offence.

The same punishment applies to food businesses making or selling foods that contain excessive pathogenic microorganisms, pesticide residue, veterinary drug residue, biotoxin, and heavy metal and other substances that threaten people’s health.

Only when the product value is above 10,000 yuan will they be fined up to 20 times the product value.

They will have their food operation licence revoked in serious cases. However, in most food-related cases, the product value is lower than 10,000 yuan, making the heaviest punishment no more than 100,000 yuan.

Freshippo’s violations have varied from expired food to excessive bacteria and label-swapping.

On August 28, Shanghai’s food watchdog said that shrimp sold by Freshippo failed quality tests for excessive cadmium.

Long-term intake of cadmium in large amounts can lead to kidney and bone damage, the administration warned.

The shrimp was sold by the company’s Jing’an District No. 2 branch.

Make violators pay more

Its Jing’an District No. 3 branch was found selling expired qingtuan (green glutinous rice balls) in April, the Jing’an market watchdog said in late August. The company was fined 50,000 yuan.

A batch of sausages sold by an outlet of Freshippo in Huangpu District had excessive bacterial colonies and coliform groups, the city’s market watchdog announced in May.

The samples had bacterial colonies totaling 1.5 million CFU (colony-forming units) per gram, 14 times the national food safety limit.

Its coliform groups amount totaled 8,600 CFU per gram, or 86 times the national limit.

In December, a customer complained that coconut milk she bought from Freshippo’s Jinqiao outlet was more than two months out of date. The company was later fined 50,000 yuan.

A month earlier, an employee of Freshippo was caught replacing labels on food with new ones showing a later date.

A shopper said he saw an employee at the Daning store ripping labels off carrots with production dates of November 9 to 11, and sticking on new ones dated November 15.

For a big business such as Freshippo, 50,000 yuan is a trifle. Its annual sales volume hit 14 billion yuan last year based on figures from the China Chain Store and Franchise Association. By 2018, it had registered 109 stores nationwide.

The company’s Chinese name is literally translated as “Hema Fresh,” but it has turned out to be sour.

To be fair, Freshippo is not the only company to violate food safety regulations.

Waggas, Carrefour, Metro and RT-Mart have all been fined.

The low cost paid by enterprises for violations of food regulations is the main reason behind repeated irregularities, according to lawyer Liu Chunquan.

Overseas, companies guilty of such offences would face hefty fines while business links can be ended in serious cases, while in China companies can reregister fairly easily, experts said.

The rapid expansion of chain food businesses in recent years has given rise to a spate of food safety problems, and heavier penalty might be one way to deal with repeated offenders.


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