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March 24, 2017

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French bakery executives held and all outlets closed in stale flour raid

POLICE yesterday held eight executives for allegedly using expired flour in a popular downtown French bakery chain.

Police said the executives included at least one foreigner. No nationality was disclosed.

Four bakeries run by Farine in Xuhui and Huangpu districts and the Pudong New Area, were suspended and sealed by local authorities yesterday.

The bakeries violated China’s food safety law by using food items beyond their expiry date, according to Yan Zuqiang, director of the Food and Drug Administration. The executives would take legal responsibility if found to have committed crimes, said Yan.

Xuhui District market supervision and management bureau destroyed a batch of bread at Farine’s flagship store on 378 Wukang Road. Law enforcement officials took away several samples for further investigation.

The market supervision authority of Minhang District has also investigated the company’s headquarters on Jinglian Road in Minhang and confiscated more than 500 packs of expired wheat flour.

“The bakery company was suspected of using expired flour to produce a total of 3,820 breads since March 6, which were distributed to its franchises in Xuhui, Huangpu and Pudong New Area,” Wang Zhe, deputy director of the Minhang Market Supervision and Management Bureau said.

Wang added that 1,930 bread items were sold and the rest had been destroyed.

At La Manufacture, Farine’s headquarters and factory in Minhang, expired flour was sealed by the bureau.

A pack of imported rye flour weighing 25 kilograms, produced by Minoteries Viron in France, was said to have expired last November 29. Production at the factory has been suspended.

“After receiving the tip-off, we sealed 578 packs of flour of 13 batches at the factory and immediately ordered the bakery to suspend production,” Wang said. Samples had been sent for tests.

Expired flour with expiry dates from July 28 last year to March 5 this year had been made into 11 types of breads and sold at the four outlets, according to the bureau.

An executive of Farine said there is no regulation targeting the expiry period of wheat and wheatmeal in France, and flour can be used for two years even if the Chinese label shows its expiry period is nine to 12 months, according to the record of Minhang District Market Supervision and Management Bureau, which interviewed Farine.

Expired flour is harmful to health, experts warned.

There will be worms when flour expires, and some eggs that are not killed will become worms under moist conditions, according to experts. Flour beetles can produce carcinogenic substances, experts said.

The Wukang Road outlet had made 1,113 breads with the expired flour, the most among the four outlets, and more than 700 of those had been sold, with the rest destroyed, the bureau said.

The headquarters comprises Farine’s production and stock area as well as its research and development, and a laboratory that only started operations this month.

The bakery brand Farine, which means flour in French, claimed all its flours were high quality “stone ground flours” imported from France.

Farine products were popular among both expats and local residents — with customers often queuing for half an hour or so to buy its bread. Customers who tried to do so yesterday expressed surprise the renowned bakery had been suspended due to food safety issues.

“I’m really disappointed because my friend and I often come to buy. Its price is not cheap so we always believe the quality is good,” an American customer said. “If it is true, it definitely should be punished, because they cannot do that to their clients,” she added.

A customer from Germany told Shanghai Daily, “I felt surprised that one of the most expensive breads in the city was found using expired flour. I think the city government should enhance supervision on food safety.”

The scandal was initially exposed by one of the bakery’s staff who posted on Weibo that the bakery on Wukang Road was using expired and even moldy flour.

In candid videos he posted, the package on a bag of flours showed the expiry date was December 2016, but bakers were shown using them. One baker used a sieve to remove mold. The baked bread was placed on dirty cloths, and some shelves were covered in dust.

“My conscience will be condemned if I failed to expose the scandal,” the staff member said. “There are so many customers coming to buy the bread every day, including many parents and their children.”

The 30-year-old whistleblower began working as a baker for Farine’s Wukang Road bakery last October. He collected evidence with his mobile phone and tipped off to the city’s food and drug administration on March 20. He also posted what he had found on a blog that attracted wide public attention.

He said the expired flour would not affect how the bread tasted but the aflatoxin generated from the flour could be harmful to health.

“I initially reported to the management of the bakery but was told I would lose my job if I kept pursuing the issue. My career might be destroyed because the circle of bakers is quite small, but I feel no regret.”

The head of the Wukang Road bakery surnamed Xin yesterday confirmed the whistleblower once worked for the bakery. The batch of expired flour found in the bakery was stored as “safety stock” and should have been thrown away, Xin said.

Shanghai Food and Drug Administration has increased the maximum cash prize to whistleblowers for tipping off wrongdoings related to food safety to 300,000 yuan (US$43,565).


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