Bak choi found to be sprayed with formalin

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 08 May, 2012, 12:00am


Vegetable wholesalers in Shandong have been caught spraying toxic formalin on bak choi to keep them fresh in the latest food safety scandal to hit the mainland.

Vendors in Qingzhou said that spraying diluted formalin on bak choi had become a common practice locally in the past three to four years, the Xiaoxiang Morning Post reports.

A police officer in the town of Dongxia said yesterday that they had recently caught a vendor from Heilongjiang spraying formalin on a truckload of bak choi before embarking on a 10-hour trip to Langfang, Hebei.

'He was packing the bak choi into a truck on the side of the road and attracted our attention because of the strong smell of formalin, which he was trying to dilute with water,' the police officer said.

'The man said he had sprayed the formalin on the bak choi because the weather is hot now and he needed to drive a long distance. Otherwise bak choi would rot, which would result in a huge loss.'

The vendor was quoted by the Xiaoxiang Morning Post as saying that many vendors buying bak choi in Shandong and Hebei sprayed it with formalin so that it lasted longer. Cheap supplies of formalin could be easily found at shops in Hebei. Formalin is well known as a preservative in medical laboratories and as a sterilising agent.

Formaldehyde, the gas used to make the liquid formalin, is classified as a human carcinogen. Long-term exposure to low levels of formaldehyde may cause respiratory difficulties, eczema and other problems.

However, mainland food safety regulations are ambiguous on whether the application of formalin to food is banned.

A deputy director of Qingzhou's agriculture bureau, Liu Shengtian , was quoted by the Xiaoxiang Morning Post as saying the authorities had ordered vendors to stop the practice and to instead use ice to keep vegetables fresh.

An official at Qingzhou's information office said the authorities had received complaints about 'formalin cabbages' before but only a few people had been involved and they had been fined.

He said the latest cases were being investigated and the results of the probe would be announced soon.

Since the scandal broke at the end of last month, the city government has been screening produce at markets, begun an education campaign about the hazards of formalin at wet markets and in rural areas, and beefed up supervision by agriculture, quality inspection and commerce bureaus, the city's news portal,, reported.