Half of food boxes unsafe: report

08:35, March 25, 2010      

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A file photo shows a consumer using a disposable takeout lunch box and chopsticks in an eatery in Nanjing, Jiangsu Province, southeast China. Photo: CFP

China uses 15 billion disposable plastic takeaway boxes every year, but at least half of them are unsafe, containing chemicals that could cause cancer, an expert from a non-governmental food-packing organization estimated, warning that the danger to human health is as serious as taking drugs.

Dong Jinshi, of the Beijing Environmental Tableware Association, which represents more than 50 manufacturers nationwide of tableware, filed lawsuits against two restaurants in Beijing for what he called the use of "inappropriate" one-off plastic containers for leftover and takeaway food, according to a report Wednesday by the China Youth Dai

"This is my first attempt through the legal system to hold organizations accountable for their actions that break the Food Safety Law, after fighting with invisible drugs for 10 years," Dong told the Global Times.

Results from the Beijing Center for Physical and Chemical Analysis show that the plastic containers, which Dong took from the two restaurants on March 3, can easily make chemical reactions with oil and vinegar, up to 150 times the national standard.

"Judging from the results, if we eat food containing vinegar or oil in poor-quality tableware, we will consume one fourth to one third of the takeout box," Dong said.

According to a report released by the Hong Kong-based International Food Packaging Association (IFPA) this month, China uses around 15 billion one-off plastic takeout boxes annually.

Dong, also the secretary-general of the association, said less than 50 percent of them meet safety standards, noting that his estimation is based on a briefing released by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in 2005.

According to the briefing, made by a subordinate body of the AQSIQ, a nationwide sampling inspection carried out by the agency in 2002 found that the qualified rate of disposable dinner and drink wares was 52 percent, and the result of a random inspection for the Beijing market, carried out by Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce, was only 40 percent.

The quality problem is very serious in the manufacturing industry of one-off plastic tableware. A large amount of industry-used calcium carbonate, paraffin wax and recycled waste are added to the production materials, making the products react easily to vinegar or oil, which leaches into the food, the report said.

Industry-used calcium carbonate and paraffin wax can damage our digestive and nervous systems, and are triggers of cancer. The recycled waste may be traded to the left-over bits and pieces of industrial material, or even medical waste, the China Youth Daily reported.

Profit-seeking seen as cause

The production of tableware posing a risk to health is so rampant because the illegal industry generates huge profits, Dong told the Global Times.

"Some 100,000 yuan ($14,700) was enough to set up a production line of unregulated plastic tableware, while the price of equipment for state approved production was as high as 1 million yuan," Dong said.

Poor sales of regulated plastic tableware forced many lawful producers of the products to partly switch to underground production in an effort to keep factories alive, he added.

Dong condemned the restaurants, major purchasers of the one-time tableware, which consider costs rather than quality and safety, and which contribute to the serious situation.

China uses 15 billion disposable plastic takeaway boxes every year, but at least half of them are unsafe, containing chemicals that could cause cancer, an expert from a non-governmental food-packing organization estimated, warning that the danger to human health is as serious as taking drugs.

Dong Jinshi, of the Beijing Environmental Tableware Association, which represents more than 50 manufacturers nationwide of tableware, filed lawsuits against two restaurants in Beijing for what he called the use of "inappropriate" one-off plastic containers for leftover and takeaway food, according to a report Wednesday by the China Youth Dai

"This is my first attempt through the legal system to hold organizations accountable for their actions that break the Food Safety Law, after fighting with invisible drugs for 10 years," Dong told the Global Times.

Results from the Beijing Center for Physical and Chemical Analysis show that the plastic containers, which Dong took from the two restaurants on March 3, can easily make chemical reactions with oil and vinegar, up to 150 times the national standard.

"Judging from the results, if we eat food containing vinegar or oil in poor-quality tableware, we will consume one fourth to one third of the takeout box," Dong said.

According to a report released by the Hong Kong-based International Food Packaging Association (IFPA) this month, China uses around 15 billion one-off plastic takeout boxes annually.

Dong, also the secretary-general of the association, said less than 50 percent of them meet safety standards, noting that his estimation is based on a briefing released by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine (AQSIQ) in 2005.

According to the briefing, made by a subordinate body of the AQSIQ, a nationwide sampling inspection carried out by the agency in 2002 found that the qualified rate of disposable dinner and drink wares was 52 percent, and the result of a random inspection for the Beijing market, carried out by Beijing Administration for Industry and Commerce, was only 40 percent.

The quality problem is very serious in the manufacturing industry of one-off plastic tableware. A large amount of industry-used calcium carbonate, paraffin wax and recycled waste are added to the production materials, making the products react easily to vinegar or oil, which leaches into the food, the report said.

Industry-used calcium carbonate and paraffin wax can damage our digestive and nervous systems, and are triggers of cancer. The recycled waste may be traded to the left-over bits and pieces of industrial material, or even medical waste, the China Youth Daily reported.

Profit-seeking seen as cause

The production of tableware posing a risk to health is so rampant because the illegal industry generates huge profits, Dong told the Global Times.

"Some 100,000 yuan ($14,700) was enough to set up a production line of unregulated plastic tableware, while the price of equipment for state approved production was as high as 1 million yuan," Dong said.

Poor sales of regulated plastic tableware forced many lawful producers of the products to partly switch to underground production in an effort to keep factories alive, he added.

Dong condemned the restaurants, major purchasers of the one-time tableware, which consider costs rather than quality and safety, and which contribute to the serious situation.
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