Pulverized lime, an inedible ingredient, has been added to bleaching agents widely used in flour production in China, Chinese media said.
China has been in the spotlight in recent years over food-safety scandals, including melamine-tainted milk that sickened thousands of babies in 2008, which have damaged the reputation of the country’s food exports.
Bleaching agents, usually made from cornstarch, are added to flour to shorten the time needed for whitening. Substituting cheaper and heavier lime for cornstarch cuts the cost of producing the bleaching agent, which is sold by weight.
The price of corn has risen to an all-time high on China’s futures markets this year, possibly inspiring the substitution by companies competing to cut selling prices.
Consumption of pulverized lime can lead to gradual damage to the lungs and eventually the entire respiratory system.
Yuzhong Food Additive Co in Rugao, Jiangsu Province, on the east coast, added 500g pulverized lime to every 2kg of bleaching agent, reported Legal Weekend, a publication run by the official Legal Daily, citing whistleblowers in the company.
The company sold bleaching agents to big flour mills in Jiangsu and neighboring Shandong and Anhui provinces.
The owner of the company, surnamed Chen, was cited as saying that his company was able to sell bleaching agent at 9,000 yuan (US$1,320) per tonne versus the market price of 11,000 yuan.
Flour is mostly used to make noodles, dumplings and steamed buns in China, especially in the north.
Melamine-tainted milk reappeared in the market earlier this year, in apparent re-sales of contaminated powder that was not destroyed after a 2008 scandal in which 300,000 infants were sickened and at least six died from kidney stones after drinking melamine-contaminated milk formula.
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