China: Food, Culture and Safety

China: Food, Culture and Safety | DuPontTM Science
As China continues to modernize, local traditions have given way to modern production that can breed contamination as well as convenience.

We in the West tend to take the safety of our food for granted. Our store shelves are stocked with an abundance of wholesome food, and few of us think twice about eating at a restaurant. When something does go wrong—like E. Coli in ground beef—the media blasts warnings to every connected device while sweeping recalls remove the potentially contaminated product from our stores.

Perhaps we have an abundance of caution, but at the same time we are the beneficiaries of a complex and vast food safety network. In countries that are still developing, food safety is far from assured, and ignoring the issue can be fatal.

As the Chinese culture—once far-flung and agrarian—continues to modernize, local farm-to-table traditions have given way to modern, mechanized production and storage—and a multi-step production chain that can breed as much risk of contamination as it can convenience.

An average 94 million Chinese become ill each year from food-borne bacteria; in recent surveys, Chinese consumers consider food safety to be the second greatest risk of daily life after earthquakes.

In response, national and local government agencies in China have stepped up inspection and regulation of food producers and restaurants. But in a country of more than a billion people, it’s a complicated and time-consuming process. Beyond sheer numbers, food inspection requires training, the ability to conduct tests in multiple and remote locations quickly and a need to decrease false positives.

A number of Chinese government agencies have adopted DuPont food-borne bacteria testing tools. Sophisticated testing systems such as those made by DuPont break food and environmental samples at the genetic level, using polymerase chain reaction technology to detect harmful bacteria and other pathogens. This DNA-based testing is more accurate than traditional, subjective plate counts—and is more sensitive, too. These kinds of testing setups are more automated, decreasing the risk of sample contamination or operator error.

The biggest reason Chinese regulators are adopting new methods of pathogen detection is speed. Traditional food-borne contaminant testing usually requires specimen isolation and takes days to complete, but DNA-based testing results can be had in in less than 24 hours, allowing regulators and producers to make quick decisions before potential problems spread.