Food safety scandals in China have caused serious concerns among Canadian grocery shoppers, leaving them trying to avoid imported food from China altogether. But Chinese food producers use labeling tactics to disguise the origin of the products. Bob Mok’s column weighs in on how to recognize the labels from food producers in China.
Patriotism does not work well when it comes to purchasing foodstuffs produced in China. Canadians of Chinese origins are shying away from purchasing food items from Mainland China when given other choices.
Incidents in the past starting with tainted powered milk and newspaper exposed stories of “countryside” factories in China producing foodstuffs employing scrupulous methods using harmful chemicals under filthy conditions caused consumers to stay away from the possibility of getting imported “black hearted foods” while shopping in Canadian Supermarkets.
Although the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) has done a great deal of sampling on imported foodstuffs, it is clear that they cannot do 100% inspections and potential toxins can only be targeted for analysis if their presence is suspected. Therefore, majority of the foodstuffs are entering Canadian based on verification of submitted documents only.
Manufacturers are aware of consumer psychologies and their resistance to the purchase of foodstuffs from China. In response, many of them resort to clever packaging to increase their chances of being selected by potential purchasers. A common trick is to copy the style, colour and design of the competitor's product packaging coming from famous brand names originating from Taiwan, Japan, Korea, or Hong Kong. I was a victim myself once while shopping in a hurry and did not take time to read the labels properly.
Another way is to make the “Product of China” statement very small and obscure. In the case of foreign companies producing food items in China, they will make the name and address of the foreign company very prominent on the packages with an obscured “supervised by” statement buried amongst the text.
Another sleight of hand method by Mainland producers is to amplify the “Location” where the product was made famous to confuse the potential customer. In the case of Taiwan Hinschu Maifun, the words “Taiwan” are enlarged to twice the size of other characters. Many Mainland products will also print their labels using “Big 5” Chinese characters instead of the “Simplified” Chinese character sets as well.
On the flip side of things, many of Canada's brand name seafood labels are products harvested from China or packaged there. They make no attempts to confuse the customers. Their labels will specify “Product of China” prominently as required by law.
Some consumers thought that they have found a solution to navigate all of these traps of buying foodstuffs from China recently, and they try to share that on the Internet. The barcode on all packages will either be 12 digits or 13 digits consisting of the company prefix, the product identification, and the check digit. The advice is to check the first three digits of the barcode labels on food packages for help in identifying the country of origin of the product. No government regulations mandate that your food package must have a barcode. Most retail establishments and distributors, however, will require one for inventory and sales records purposes.
450-459, 490-499 日本
450-459, 490-499 日本
Readers can research these codes on the Internet but I have collected some of the most relevant ones hear below:
450-459, 490-499 Japan
489 Hong Kong
880 South Korea
It is important to note that the first three digits of the (Global Standards one) GS1 Prefix only identify the national GS1 Member Organization to which the manufacturer is registered and it is not necessarily a reliable indicator of where the product is actually produced.
How reliable is this barcode identification method? I have done some research on the accuracy of this identification method. The results will surprise you! (to be continued next time).
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