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Food safety expert offers tips

By  Xie Fangyuan   (Shanghai Daily)

11:03, October 09, 2012

A greengrocer sets out the vegetables for her stall at a local wet market. Many people are nowadays looking for guidance on what's safe to eat.(Sahgnhai Daily/ Wang Rongjiang)

Professor Ma Zhiying is a food safety expert, so he pays a lot of attention to the food scandals that have rocked Shanghai and China in the past few years. He's especially interested in helping consumers learn to eat a safe and healthy diet.

Ma is technical director of the Shanghai Food Research Institute and director of Shanghai Food Association Committee of Experts. He has more than 30 years' experience in food safety.

Overshadowing all scandals was the San Lu baby milk powder scandal in 2008 when melamine, an industrial chemical, was added to raw milk to fake its protein level, making it appear protein-rich. At least six infants died nationwide and at least 300,000 were sickened.

Most recently, five scandals in the past three months have dulled the image of Shanghai-based Bright Dairy, one of the city's most recognized and trusted brands selling a range of dairy products. A cheese product for children was recalled after an unauthorized additive was found. In September it had to recall batches of sour milk.

The company has issued apologies, saying it fixed the problem and promised to restore customer confidence.

A government safety regulator called on Professor Ma to investigate and he called the case of contaminated milk "an accident of production."

"The tap of a cleaning valve joining a production pipe is supposed to be closed, but it opened by accident," Ma tells Shanghai Daily about Bright Dairy's contaminated milk. "It was caused by a nonhuman error beyond control."

Many people are looking for guidance on what's safe to eat, and there's all kinds of material published in books and on the Internet. It can be bewildering. Ma himself has published two guides that he says will help people eat a safe and healthy diet: "What Is Edible - Strategy of Dietary Safety" (2011) and "What Is Edible - Strategy of Purchasing Safe Food" (2012). Both are in Chinese.

"People always ask me many of the same questions on eating safe and healthy," 63-year-old Ma says. "I want to let them know how to protect themselves."

Ma introduces the concept of "risk analysis," saying it's important to judge whether food is harmful and know how to identify injurious ingredients and the harm they cause.

"Since harmful additives can affect health after an overdose, the amount of all permitted ingredients' upper limits must be set clearly," Ma says. "Dose determines toxicity."

Professor Ma graduated in biochemical engineering from East China University of Science and Technology. Acknowledged for his expertise in research into food biochemistry, food technology and food safety, Ma is a consultant to the Shanghai government departments supervising food safety.

Ma emphasizes that while all injurious substances cannot be completely removed from food, consumers can minimize the potential harm caused by food.

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