One middle-aged woman from Guangzhou, surnamed Dong (東), said that she usually does not follow the news, but that this time was different.
“If you’re comparing China and Taiwan, I prefer brands from Taiwan a little bit more,” Dong said. “The food situation in China has always been a mess, but now in Taiwan, it’s almost the same.”
Xu, who said she has eaten Wu Mu ramen noodles, agreed with Dong.
“Chinese products are not trustworthy,” said Xu, who is also from China. “But the quality in Taiwan now is more variable than ever. I usually would buy brand names that you often see advertised. For instance, I used to buy Kimlan (金蘭醬油) soy sauce. Now, I don’t necessarily buy things from Taiwan.”
MIT: No longer sign of quality
Many shoppers interviewed last weekend said they began changing their opinion about made-in-Taiwan brands in 2011, when plasticizer Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) was found in emulsifying additives used in everything from sports beverages to fruit jelly. Regarded as a cheap substitute for palm oil, plasticizers have been linked to developmental problems in children and are illegal in foods.
Still, some Jmart shoppers, including Helen Chen, said they were trying to take the latest food-safety scare in stride.
“If it sounds like it tastes good, I’ll buy it, no matter who makes it or where it comes from,” Chen said. “But I’m still surprised about this news from Taiwan. It’s got my attention.”
Besides keeping straight the growing number of companies added to the made-in-Taiwan blacklist, wearied Chinese and Taiwanese-American shoppers pointed out that they also face another challenge that emerged before the integrity of Taiwanese food items had been called into question — making sure that the brands they purchase are actually the real thing.
“See the character ‘fu’ (父)? That’s not the same as this ‘fu’ (傅),” a student from Zhejiang, China, surnamed Zhang (張), said as she held up a package of Kang Shi-fu (康師父) instant noodles, distributed by a Brooklyn warehouse, and compared it to Master Kong (康師傅), the famous Chinese brand established in 1991 by two Taiwanese brothers that is owned by Ting Hsin International Group (頂新集團).
One of those brothers, Ting Hsin chairman Wei Ying-chun (魏應充), was indicted two weeks ago on charges of fraud, mislabeling products and violating the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法) in connection with adulterated oil purchased from the Chang Chi Foodstuff Factory Co that Ting Hsin allegedly produced and marketed under the Wei Chuan brand.
Zhang said she was aware of Taiwan’s on-going food safety issues and said she knew oil was one of the blacklisted items. But, Zhang added, she did not know that Master Kong had also been ensnared in the food scandal.
When asked if this had changed her mind about which “Kang Shi-fu” she would buy, Zhang paused and cracked a smile.
“I think I still prefer Master Kong,” she said. “It’s extremely popular in China. It’s the real thing.”