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Poisoned gyoza has Japanese, Chinese officials puzzled

Date Posted: 2008-02-04

Reports of food poisoning cases thought caused by tainted products from China tapered off Sunday, but officials in both Japan and China remain concerned the problems haven’t gone away.
More than 1,088 cases of food poisoning thought caused by frozen dumplings imported from China have been recorded through Sunday, but Chinese officials are telling Japan the products produced by Hebei Foodstuffs are not contaminated. Instances of imported gyoza being eaten, followed by illness, have been reported in 38 prefectures, including Okinawa. Nineteen Japanese companies import the products produced by Hebei Foodstuffs, with many of the food poisoning cases tracked back to products imported by JT Foods. Laboratory tests showed pesticides discovered in uneaten gyoza at victims’ homes.
Chinese officials Sunday regular inspections have been made at the Hebei factory where frozen dumplings are produced, and that there have been no pesticides found. The Hebei Inspection and Quarantine Bureau Chief, Cheng Fang, says the Hebei factory does not use the pesticide discovered in the Japan cases. “We found no problems,” Cheng says, in either ingredients or the processing system at the Hebei plant.
Cheng’s office launched an immediate investigation of the company, as well as of 30 staff members at Hebei Foodstuffs, after learning of the food poisoning cases in Japan. Contaminated Hebei products manufactured on October 1st and October 20th were confirmed by Japanese authorities, but Cheng says his staff’s investigations found no traces of pesticides at the plant during October. He says tests on frozen dumplings were conducted within days of their manufacturing, adding quality control checks were made two dozen times over the past eleven months.
The Hebei Foodstuffs factory is owned by Tianyang Food, and the company director says he was “extremely surprised” by the reports. Di Menglu says internal tests had cleared all products produced under his supervision, but promised to “cooperate with investigations in a sincere manner”.
A team of Chinese experts is due in Japan today to participate in investigations. The General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine is being joined by fellow Chinese Commerce Ministry and Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine officials.
JT Foods, a prime importer of Hebei Foodstuffs products, says it will recall 48,000 cases of products. JT Foods, which belongs to Japan Tobacco Inc., says more than 3,000 complaints and inquiries have been received from consumers.
With the Lunar New Year holidays only days away, the gyoza food poisoning cases have sent sales plummeting across the country, particularly in Chinatowns in Nagasaki, Kobe and Yokohama. Chinatown store and restaurant managers say they’ve been preparing for large scale 20th anniversary New Year’s festivities in Kobe, but they expect to see fewer than last year’s 330,000 visitors show up because of the food scare.
Yokohama Chinatown merchants are taking an even stronger tack, posting signs reassuring customers all its products are made in Japan. Even souvenir shops are worried, and joining in touting product safety to visitors. Only Nagasaki shopkeepers and visitors seem unconcerned about the gyoza food poisoning cases. Local residents say they’re not worried about the reports, and the Nagasaki Chinatown—already lit up with thousands of red lanterns ahead of the Nagasaki Lantern Festival on Thursday—is expecting it to be festivities as usual.
Police in Hyogo Prefecture, meanwhile, are expressing concerns about possible product tampering. A package of gyoza partially consumed by a Takasago family several weeks ago was found to have a three-millimeter hole in the package, leading investigators to suspect someone may have used a needle to inject pesticide into the package.
No similar holes were found in a gyoza package consumed by a Chiba family that became ill, according to the National Police Agency.

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