More Chinese food safety questions

Over the past number of years, I have discussed food safety issues in China several times. One column discussed contaminated pet food, imported from China, while another column centered on contaminated infant formula that was manufactured and sold in China. The most recent Chinese food scare has a local spin – two Illinois firms are involved, one that produced the questionable products and the other that unknowingly sold them.  The two firms, with headquarters 45 miles apart, are working together to solve a problem from half way around the world. 

It has been widely reported that workers at a Chinese subsidiary of Aurora, Illinois based OSI Group were videotaped packaging out-of-date chicken and beef products, including meat that was picked up from the factory floor.  The products were then sold, in China, to another Illinois based firm – McDonald’s, with headquarters in Oak Brook, Illinois.  And it was through McDonald’s outlets in China that the contaminated products may have entered the food chain.  To date, there have been no health problems associated the contaminated products.

OSI Group has deep roots in the Chicago area, going back to 1909, according to its website.  Since then, it has grown to be a multi-billion dollar food company with 20,000 employees located around the world – including Germany, Ukraine, China, Australia, Japan and India.  The scope of its operations is noteworthy – the Wall Street Journal reported that its poultry plants in China alone process 300 million chickens a year.  And it has enjoyed a long relationship with McDonald’s, supplying a reported 85% of McDonald’s outlets with high quality food products.

As the China scandal emerged, including graphic video images shown on Chinese television, the two Illinois companies aggressively moved to minimize the fallout from the incident and to rectify the production problems that were shown in the televised stories.  It was reported that McDonald’s restaurants in several Chinese cities had stopped selling hamburgers and chicken products. OSI issued several press releases on the situation in which they detailed the considerable number of actions they are taking to both resolve the issue and prevent it from happening again.

Recent food quality scandals in China were not addressed in the professional and business-like approach taken by OSI and McDonald’s.  In this case, as in previous food quality concerns, Chinese government officials arrested several people they claimed were responsible and let their legal system deal with things. What is different this time is the approach taken by the companies involved. OSI, within days, had dispatched an investigation team to China, with the commitment that the investigation results would be made public. But the key difference in this contamination problem, compared to previous problems, is the companies involved are taking direct action to change both management and processes to keep such situations from again happening.  They have gone further than simply arresting people and putting them on trial. They have committed their companies to solving the problem.

Good for these two Illinois companies for working together and leading the way, in China and around the world, on the proper way to assure the highest quality food is provided to their customers.  

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