35 China eateries found using opium to season food

Chinese hostesses are seen behind the door of a branch of Huda Restaurant chain in Beijing, China, on Jan 23, 2016.
Chinese hostesses are seen behind the door of a branch of Huda Restaurant chain in Beijing, China, on Jan 23, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

BEIJING • Thirty-five restaurants in China selling popular dishes and snacks were found to have used opium poppies as a seasoning, China's top food safety regulator said.

Owners of 25 of the restaurants have been transferred to public security departments for criminal investigation, the China Food and Drug Administration said last Thursday. The other 10 are under investigation by the administration.

The restaurants include some that are locally well known, including Huda Restaurant in Beijing, which specialises in spicy crayfish.

Adding opium poppies to dishes violates China's Food Safety Law, which forbids the selling of food made with non-food materials or chemicals, except for food additives. Violations could result in fines or criminal penalties.

The regulator called on local food and drug authorities to punish those involved and to cooperate with public security departments to find the sources of the poppies. It also required food and drug authorities to intensify supervision and inspection of restaurants that sell food like fried chicken and noodles.

Professor of food safety and nutrition Luo Yunbo, at the China Agricultural University, said opium causes addiction and serious harm to health if overused, and it is banned from use in food in China.

"There are so many restaurants in China and it is very difficult to effectively inspect every one of them to ensure they follow the law," he said.

Some restaurants add opium poppies to dishes, such as meat soup, to improve the taste, according to media reports. In July 2014, a man surnamed Qiu was arrested in Shanghai for buying opium poppies and adding them to the crayfish and crab dishes he sold in his restaurants, according to ThePaper.cn.

"Overall food safety is closely linked to the development and education of a nation," Dr Luo said. "It requires a long period to improve food safety."

CHINA DAILY/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline '35 China eateries found using opium to season food'. Print Edition | Subscribe