Regulations that the Chinese government instituted to food-safety laws in December 2019 don’t address key problems—heavy metals such as lead, mercury and arsenic in their soil…and the overuse of pesticides, animal antibiotics and additives in food processing. The riskiest foods are fish, shellfish, vegetables and fruits.

Adding to the problem is lack of US oversight. Our agencies don’t have the manpower to inspect enough food plants in China or check more than 1% or 2% of shipments that arrive in the US. 

High percentages of the apple juice, processed mushrooms, frozen spinach and tilapia we consume are from China. The USDA has not permitted China to export poultry products from birds raised there to the US until recently. Poultry products have to be cooked, but a hidden provision in the trade act opens the door for fresh poultry to come here in the future.

Our “Country of Origin Labeling” law requires most markets to post where foods, including fresh and frozen chicken, some meats, seafood, fruits and vegetables, come from. So buying whole, fresh foods is safest. 

Once a product has been prepared or processed, country-of-origin labeling isn’t mandatory. For example, ­breaded chicken products and dried spices do not have to be labeled. Country of origin usually is marked on the box in which spice containers come to the store, so ask at the customer-service desk.

Note: Other countries that have a high number of food shipments refused by the FDA for contamination are Mexico, primarily for vegetables, and ­India, ­notably for spices and farm-raised shrimp. An organic label is not a guarantee or a green light that a product is safe to buy. Recent investigations have found that some foods labeled “organic”—from China and elsewhere—are not.

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