Some media outlets during the recent food scares have interviewed so-called “experts,” who have made spurious and alarmist statements. When did food manufacturing, processing, security and hygiene become issues that could be explained by non-food specialists and pundits, physicians, chemists, chefs or retailers?
Unsafe food has to do with nothing more than natural toxins, microorganisms, intentionally added chemicals and inappropriate preparations or processing.
From the 2011 plasticizer food scare to the recent industrial starch scare, it is clear that the problem is created by the ignorance of non-food experts handling food products.
Because there is a low threshold to enter the food industry, there have always been many in the raw material business with a chemical industry background. Moreover, as many big food manufacturers later moved overseas, food manufacturing was increasingly subcontracted and the process became fragmented. Many non-food safety specialists entered the food manufacturing chain because of these two factors.
Production was no longer one continuous process and security controls at each stage in the process were not supervised by the same system. The most common method became to inspect the final product; this was the reason the number of inspection firms surged.
Ingredients that are listed on the product can of course be tested one by one, but what about the unlisted ingredients? That is why ticking bombs are always ready to go off.
As all these issues are related to the inspection and control of raw materials, why not implement a quality control system? The industry should impose self-regulation to implement quality controls at each stage, and the government should conduct source controls.
In the case of the contaminated starch, the factory supplied its product directly to companies in the food and beverage industry. However, quality control should have started with the raw materials before processing. In other words, the government should inspect manufacturers of raw materials, and not the food and beverage companies. Individual food hygiene control is even more important than nutrition because food safety is more important than calorie control.
Vitamin C is not yellow, naturally cooked taro root is not purple and coffee drinks with creamer will separate without additives. Incorrect food processing or preparation are tricking people into thinking that what is wrong is right.
Return food safety to the experts.
All those who have no idea about food product manufacturing should make sure that they understand what they are doing before they continue.
Soy sauce is not mixed; that is not how specialized food manufacturers make it. Tea is not a matter of A+B+C; that is chemical treatment. The fact is everything is toxic to a certain extent, and the right way to go about things is to instruct people to eat more natural foods and less processed foods.
Given the abundance of confusing information, it is the government’s responsibility to inspect companies and inform the public about these issues.
Namchow Group chairman Alfred Chen (陳飛龍) was right when he said that the government is dedicating far too little manpower to food safety.
Food-related industries should push for legislation requiring that they hire food safety management staff. They could also cooperate with teachers and students at university food science departments to help inform the public about food safety and hygiene based on correct information. If food safety is not returned to the experts, their voices will never be heard.
Lin Chih-cheng is president of Yuanpei University.
Translated by Perry Svensson