Beijing is trying to make it easier to pull unsafe food products from the shelves with tough changes to the country's recall regulations.
A draft put out for public consultation on Monday by the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine tries to plug loopholes in regulations from 2007.
The amendments also make it easier to recall problematic food items. At present, food products can be recalled only when found to be harmful to health, contaminated or if they have gone bad.
And procedures to begin the recall process are complicated. Authorities must determine and classify the severity of the problem, with different procedures to be applied in each category. The amended regulations stipulate that food products should be recalled if they do not meet safety standards.
Under the amended regulations, the food safety watchdog or the food producer would begin the recall, which must start within three days.
The draft also spells out that recalled items cannot be reused for food production or resale after the toxic elements are removed. This is not mentioned in the existing regulation.
These stricter standards and simplified procedures come after a string of food scandals that have shaken public confidence in food on the mainland.
They also aim to bring recall regulations into line with the Food Safety Law put into effect in June 2009.
In 2008, the mainland was hit by one of its worst food-safety scandals in decades. At least six children died and 300,000 others fell ill with kidney problems after drinking melamine-tainted baby formula. The dangerous industrial substance was added illegally to artificially make protein levels seems higher. Some 22 dairies were involved in the scandal. They were ordered to recall their products and destroy any tainted milk powder.
But more contaminated dairy products have since surfaced.
The latest discovery came last month in Chongqing, where authorities seized 26 tonnes of melamine-contaminated milk powder. Last year, authorities confiscated and destroyed more than 27,000 tonnes of recycled melamine-tainted milk powder.
Food scares such as these have added to pressure on the government to step up food safety measures.
Food producers would be required to report the results of recalls within seven days of completion under the new regulations. That includes the amount recalled and how it was handled. The records would have to be kept for at least two years.
Prosecutors have this year begun investigations into 57 government employees involved in food safety scandals, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing Qiu Xueqiang, the deputy procurator-general of the Supreme People's Procuratorate.
Eighteen of those allegedly took bribes in 17 cases, while the other 39 are being investigated for dereliction of duty in 20 cases, the report said.
The number of sets of laws and regulations that deal with food safety on the mainland