The Bubble Tea Scandal: China Sickens its Own, Again

Lest anyone think low Chinese product quality and potentially dangerous ingredients are part of a secret program to hurt only those in the West, guess again. The most recent food ingredient scandal from China impacts its own people first. The latest headlines point to a new bubble tea scandal that is turning out to be far more sour than sweet. According to The Shanghai Daily, "bubble tea could be dangerous to your health as cheap raw materials -- milk powder, starch balls and sweeteners -- used by some vendors may contain banned food additives including poisonous plastic and arsenic". As if that was not enough, "although starch is claimed to be the main ingredient suppliers add wheat gluten, a plastic, to make the balls chewier. Plastic is a banned food additive. The sweetener is no better, according to the vendor. It is added with chemicals such as sodium sulfate, which is used as a washing powder and banned as a food additive." And you thought the sugar was the most harmful part!

My colleague, Richard Brubaker, is the one who pointed me to the story. But he also has his own take on it over on his All Roads blog. Richard writes, "It is a sense that has kept me from eating all sorts of food while living here, but bubble tea was one of those things that I would enjoy every once in a while on a cold rainy day in Shanghai. That is until about 6 months ago where several people in my office were sick after drinking bubble teas from a stall down the street, and I looked behind the counter to see what was actually going into the cup."

All I can say is that next time I go to China, I'm planning on avoiding street food (which is hard for a foodie like me). Moreover, I suspect it would all do us well to look at this situation as yet another example of the Chinese not giving two figs about regulating the safety of their products -- food or otherwise. Just as the Chinese are capable of manufacturing world-class products in many areas, they're also capable of poisoning their own (not to mention the world). In China, you most certainly get what you pay for down to a dangerous bubble tea on a street corner.

Jason Busch

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