A businessman has been arrested in Liaoning with dozens of his workers amid claims that huge amounts of carcinogenic food preservatives were used to make tonnes of cheap duck meat resemble more costly mutton or beef.
More than 100 police officers detained the owner of a large-scale meat factory in Liaoyang city and 33 of his employees last week for investigation, the Beijing Times reported on Monday.
The 42-year-old boss, surnamed Li, reportedly gained knowledge of the process due to his experience as a lamb butcher.
His staff allegedly soaked the reddish-grey duck meat in chemical additives, turning it a brighter shade of red to make it look like mutton, the report said.
They then immersed the meat in lanolin oil for hours to make it smell and taste like mutton and beef. Samples taken from more than 40 tonnes of the confiscated meat showed up to 8.69 grams of sodium nitrite were present per kg – nearly 3,000 times the maximum limit set by the authorities.
Sodium nitrite is a preservative and colour fixative which is commonly used in meat, fish and pickled food.
But its excessive use can be harmful to humans, as it turns into cancer-causing nitrosamines in the stomach.
The newspaper report said Li sold the tainted meat to small and mid-sized restaurants, as well as food distributors in the northeastern mainland.
On January 25, the Ministry of Public Security launched a massive nationwide campaign to uncover widespread supplies of toxic and substandard food.
The closure of Li's factory was part of the campaign, which came a fortnight before the Lunar New Year next Sunday.
As of yesterday, the crackdown has led to the arrest of more than 350 suspects and the closure of 220 underground workshops involving 120 cases of toxic food production across the mainland.