Thousands of zongzi (粽子, glutinous rice dumplings) were pulled off the shelves yesterday because their manufacturers had allegedly altered expiration dates to cope with increased demands ahead of the Dragon Boat Festival on Wednesday.
Greater Tainan police and prosecutors on Thursday led health inspection officers on raids of six properties belonging to Jiali District (佳里)-based Yu Chang Frozen Foods Enterprise Co (禹昌食品). Thousands of zongzi that were either past or close to their expiry dates were reportedly found and more than a score of people were taken in for questioning.
Prosecutors said the zongzi were from a batch returned to Yu Chang by the RT-Mart (大潤發) supermarket chain last year and Yu Chang employees had apparently attached new tags with an expiration date of June next year to them.
Yu Chang has Certified Agricultural Standards (CAS) labeling and Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) certification, the prosecutors said.
Among those questioned after the raids were Han Kuo-pin (韓國彬), a section chief in Yu Chang’s production department, who was detained by the Tainan District Court yesterday.
However, Yu Chang tried to distance itself from the controversy, saying it had only signed an original equipment manufacturer (OEM) deal with Laurel Enterprises Co (桂冠實業) to manufacture zongzi, and had outsourced the actual production to Chia Pin Food Manufacturer (嘉品食品行) in Minsyong Township (民雄), Chiayi County.
Chia Pin is an OEM supplier of zongzi for Taiwan Sugar Corp and the hypermarket chain A.mart (愛買), prosecutors said.
Yu Chang said it had notified supermarkets and stores nationwide to remove its zongzi from shelves, and apologized to consumers for its “quality management oversight.”
Greater Tainan’s Department of Health yesterday said all the problematic zongzi had been sealed and that it would fine those companies found responsible for them.
Chia Pin proprietor Chiu Ching-chih (邱錦池) said the company’s zongzi could be preserved for a year because they were stored at minus-20°C after production and shipped to consumers within three months.
His company did not package its products, so the problem might lie in their handling by downstream companies, Chiu said. He said his company was also a victim and he appealed for prosecutors to conduct a thorough probe.
In related news, Taipei City’s Department of Health yesterday found 18 illegal food processing products, including industrial colorings, in a joint inspection with the Taipei District Prosecutors’ Office of a local food processing and ingredient importer in Datong District (大同). The company was fined NT$40,000 (US$1,350) for violating the Act Governing Food Sanitation (食品衛生管理法).
The inspection found that I Liang Food Manufacturer (益良食品行) has been using “Metanil Yellow” industrial coloring instead of Yellow No. 36 food coloring and sold it to a bean curd manufacturer in New Taipei City (新北市).
In addition to six fake food coloring packs, the inspection also found 12 food ingredient products that were not clearly labeled or past their expiry dates. Twenty-seven more packages, including red chili pepper powder, yellow powder and Sichuan pepper powder, were taken for testing.
Food and Drug Office Director Chiu Hsiu-yi (邱秀儀) said the city’s health department had reported the company to the prosecutors earlier this month after a regular food safety inspection on May 30 found Metanil Yellow in bean curd sold at the Shezi traditional market.
The use of Metanil Yellow in food products is banned and could cause liver damage if consumed by humans, the department said.
Chiu Hsiu-yi said the company was fined NT$40,000 for violating the food sanitation act. Adding industrial coloring to food products could bring a fine up to NT$6 million.