If you’re new to China you’ve probably thought about the food – and in particular food safety. All too often over the last few years, shocking headlines have caught the eye of even the casual China observer. From restaurants using gutter oil—cooking oil that has already been designated as waste—to mislabeled meat, the food scandals seem depressingly frequent.
So just how are you going to be able to feed yourself and your family safely?
Five keys to safer food
In matters as important as this, it’s a good idea to look to the experts. The World Health Organization suggests that there are five keys to safe food:
- Keep clean
- Separate raw and cooked
- Cook thoroughly
- Keep food at safe temperatures
- Use safe water and raw materials
That’s all well and good, but how can you be sure that all of those steps are respected and adhered to by the people and shops that supply your food?
One way to ensure that your food is free from harmful additives might be to buy organic. The problem for many expats in China, however, is that ‘organic’ doesn’t mean the same thing here as it does back home.
So what does the ‘organic’ label mean in China?
China’s ‘organic’ certification sets a clear benchmark that Chinese farmers and producers are expected to follow. It includes keeping food and produce free from GMO technology, synthetic pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth regulators and feed additives.
The Chinese ‘organic’ label does have real currency then, even if it is different from what you’re used to.
In fact, organic in China has a long and rich history. And although China’s agricultural sector has suffered great upheaval over the last century, in part due to the need to feed one fifth of the world’s population on one tenth of its arable land, this history is now being eagerly embraced by a new generation of committed, artisanal farmers and producers.
But microorganisms matter more
It’s not only organic that matters, though. And in some respects, the use of chemical fertilizers is not the first thing we should be concerned about when it comes to food safety.
Each day, across both the developing and developed world, thousands of people die from preventable foodborne disease, placing great strain on healthcare systems, damaging national economies and hampering international trade.
Food can be contaminated by tiny microorganisms at any point before consumption—be that on the farm, in transit, or on store shelves.
Microorganisms are all around us: on our skin, in our food, in our environment. Some are good—think probiotic yogurt, penicillin—some are bad. And some are outright dangerous. When it comes to food, dangerous microorganisms often can’t be seen; whereas bread turns visibly moldy, salmonella, to take one example, has no visible effects. That makes things harder.
All of this makes it all the more important that you can totally trust the source and suppliers of the foodstuffs you consume.
The future is bright
Things are getting better in China. The government is now really serious about stamping out food scandals and, under proposed revisions to China’s Food Safety Laws implemented in the middle of 2014, punishing severely those who break its rules.
Arguably, there’s never been a better time – and a better time to eat – for expats in China than right here, right now.
This article was contributed by FIELDS, your online grocery store in China. FIELDS works closely with its suppliers and farmers, nurturing best practice and ethical production. FIELDS only works with companies who are certified to the very highest standards and have all the correct paperwork under Chinese law, which many companies don’t have.
FIELDS’ temperature-controlled delivery chain means that food arrives at your door exactly the way it should; fresh really does mean fresh and frozen actually arrives frozen, whatever the weather.
As FIELDS’ founder says, FIELDS only sells “Food that we’re proud to serve our own families”.