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Friday, February 13, 2015, 09:52

Video to monitor food safety

By Wang Zhenghua in Shanghai

Shanghai will expand a pilot program to monitor key food producers through video surveillance, after a major scandal devastated fast-food giants including McDonald's and Yum Brands as well as consumer confidence in food safety.

Starting this year, the city will ask "high-risk" food manufacturing companies or organizations to install more surveillance cameras in their key departments, such as those producing or processing meat, infant products, dairy, school canteens and large-scale food delivery services, according to the Shanghai Food and Drug Administration.

The measure comes after Shanghai Husi Food, owned by the Chinese arm of US food giant OSI Group, was found to have supplied expired meat to fast-food companies in Shanghai and restaurants as far away as Beijing and the provinces of Liaoning, Henan, Sichuan and Shandong.

"Because there is a gap between the limited number of supervising officers and the mountain of tasks, we are trying to come up with new measures," Gu Zhenhua, deputy director of the administration, said on Thursday.

Since April, the city has helped install video surveillance at four formula producers and at all fast-food companies with a daily delivery capability of 300,000 portions at their warehouses and workshops where feeding, cooking or cleaning are undertaken.

"The companies are willing to enhance their management levels and are supportive of the measure," Gu said. "It's not only for the sake of food safety, but also for security and anti-theft purposes."

Li Shuguang, a public health professor at Fudan University, said that video surveillance can help prevent incidents similar to the Husi scandal.

"It is better than sitting and taking no action, though it is very hard to eradicate similar illegal behavior simply because of such a measure," he said.

The Husi incident shows that the authority cannot blindly believe that large companies will properly monitor themselves, he added.

"Video surveillance of food producers exists in other countries as well," he said. "But it is strong legal awareness and heavy penalties that make these companies self-disciplined. In developed countries, the consequences of violating the law are very harsh. It's a huge disgrace."

Following the Husi incident, the city's authorities vowed to increase food producers' awareness of the law.

Other measures include encouraging food companies to set up independent quality control officers to curb malpractice in workshops and building a blacklist to push companies to enhance their management level.

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